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The ghosts of the Belle

The ghosts of the Belle

Postby BlackPanther » Tue Jul 04, 2017 9:47 am

Route description: Fairy Lochs, near Badachro

Date walked: 15/06/2017

Time taken: 3 hours

Distance: 6 km

Ascent: 200m

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Wednesday the 14th of June was a day full of magical views, as we walked the ridge of Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr nan Coireachan. Thursday the 15th was a mix of sunshine, heavy showers and gusty winds. In such conditions we didn't really want to risk another hill and as a result we picked a low level walk. An unusual one, and until recently we didn't even know this very spot existed.

Actually, I should go back in time to the day we climbed Scaraben, some 6 weeks ago, in scorching heat. Just below the summit of East Scaraben I stepped on a piece of aluminum, which turned out to be a part of a crashed plane. Having returned home, I was very curious not only about this particular spot, but about any other plane crash sites in Scottish mountains. Needless to say, I did my research on the web and I was shocked how many wreckages still lay scattered on the slopes of the highland hills! Did you realize there are remains of TWO different planes on Braeriach? Also one on the north-eastern slopes of Lochnagar (more about this one in reports to follow). The Beinn Eighe crash site is perhaps the most known and the most visited by tourists, as it's easily reached by walking around Loch Corrie Mhic Fhearchair. Some of these spots are very hard to get to, far away from standard walking routes, on steep slopes or in the forest. Some have little remains left, others still look like the tragedy has only happened a few years ago. Most of the wreckage is from the 40-ties and 50-ties, before the procedures to collect all pieces of a crashed machine were put in place. I know, looking for broken bits of metal somewhere on a steep mountain slope may not be to everybody's taste, but I was hooked! I'm not going to give up hillwalking for crash site pilgrimage :wink: but in the future, if there is any wreckage nearby, I'll be happy to take a detour to see and photograph it.

Of course, I'm not talking taking plane parts home. In my mind, it would be like grave robbing. I know, in most cases, the bodies of the crew were recovered and buried somewhere else, but in my eyes, such spots are places of remembrance and therefore should be left intact. Well, one could argue that the plane parts are rubbish and should be disposed of, but I'd answer: if they have been on the mountains for 60 or 70 years and didn't do much harm, let them stay where the poor plane came to rest. That's why we left the broken bit of aluminum on the slopes of Scaraben, where it now belongs.

So now back to Shieldaig. Not the Torridon one - the Gairloch Sheildaig, which is a small seaside village on the narrow B8056 road. Not much of interest in the village itself, it has a hotel and a small rocky beach:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 140.JPG

but among the rocky hillocks above Shieldaig there is a very spooky place called Fairy Lochs.
Well, one could ask, what's spooky about fairies, they are sweet little creatures with wings? The name refers to a set of small lochs and lochans, dotted among rocky outcrops and even by itself, the circular walk would be an interesting way to spend a couple of hours. But here, in the quiet seclusion of Fairy Lochs, rest the remains of B-24H Liberator bomber. The crash site is probably one of the easiest to reach in Scotland yet not well known, I bet many of you visited this area and never heard of it!
Easy to reach does not mean a Sunday stroll though. We visited the spot on a wet day with passing heavy showers, but I bet that it's a bogfeast any time of the year. The path to the crash site is well worn but don't forget your Goretex boots (don't make my mistake - ha ha ha). WH description suggests walking a bit further, between the lochs, to make a circular walk in a lovely surrounding. Shame we couldn't lurk around as much as we'd like to, it was far too wet!

Track_FAIRY LOCHS 15-06-17.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

There is a good off-road parking in the village. When we arrived in Shieldaig, I discovered that as a result of a misunderstanding with my husband, my walking boots were not put in the car boot. He thought I did it, I though he did, and as it happened, they got left at home.
It would have been a problem if we were going on a serious hillwalking expedition, but because it was only a 6 km circuit on moorland and mostly on paths, I thought I was safe enough in my sturdy cross trainers, supposedly showerproof. Thankfully Kevin packed in gaiters for both of us, so I decided I'd be all right.
Panther posing in trainers :lol: :lol:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 002.JPG

We walked a short distance along the tarmac road then turned onto a dirt track. Soon, a marked path branched off to the left, with a green signpost "to the crash site". Navigation for idiots :lol:

The path soon became a bogfeast:

It's about 130m of ascent on the path to the "sanctuary" with the lochs and as we gained height, we appreciated the views around us:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 012.JPG

Back to Loch Gairloch:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 013.JPG

Brave Kevin charging up the wet path. Easy to say for him, he had his proper boots on!

It was a short climb to the "sanctuary", but one I would not do again in trainers, very muddy and slippery :?
At the level of the lochs, we reached a fence and a kissing gate. Kevin was in photographing mood already!
Mister snap-snap :lol:

Past the gate, the path follows the banks of loch no. 1 (they don't have names on the map so hard to describe them) and we stopped here for more photos and to admire the quiet beauty of the landscape:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 025.JPG

Panorama from further up the path:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 028.JPG

Very moody Baosbheinn:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 029.JPG

The path continues past the first loch, around a rocky outcrop, then descends a bit to loch no. 2. Now look carefully. This is a resting place of a plane. Can you see anything?
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 034.JPG

Might not be easy to spot from the distance, but soon we saw what we're looking for:

This wee carved stone suggests a resting place - but the bodies of those lost in this tragic event are not buried here. Still, makes no difference to me. Still a war monument in my eyes and a place that calls for respect. I felt like someone knocked me in the chest. This site is indeed very spooky!

On the rock, above a large portion of the remains, a metal plaque explains the story:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 035.JPG

So as the story goes, at the time of the accident, this B-24 was flying home to USA after the 2nd World War. It started from Prestwick and its route should have taken it over Stornoway in the Western Isles, en route to Iceland (where it would refuel). For unknown reasons, the plane ended up flying over the Scottish mainland. On board was a nine-man 'Ketchum' crew from 66th Bomb Squadron together with six other crewmen from Air Transport Command.

We don't really know why (maybe a technical problem) at some point the plane began to lose height while over Wester Ross area. Then it glanced the summit of Slioch, and as a result, it may have lost some parts of its bomb bay doors. The aircraft continued flying for some considerable distance to Gairloch and it looks like the pilot was trying to save the plane by a forced landing. Sadly, the bomber struck the rocky outcrops around the Fairy Lochs and crashed. The wreckage is scattered over a wide area, some of it fell into one of the lochs.
A small aluminum part:

Having read the memorial plaque, I noticed that most of the crew/passengers were young lads in their twenties. They have survived the winds of war, only to die on their way home to their families. How heartbreaking. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the last, scary moments of their life, the wounded plane shaking an screeching, the pilot's desperate attempts to find a landing spot. Many young lives came to an end here, by the Fairy Lochs. I hope they didn't suffer. I hope it was quick.
Parts of the landing gear:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 044.JPG

One of the engines sticking out of the shallow loch waters:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 046.JPG

2017-06-15 fairy lochs 058.JPG

Panoramic view of the loch where some parts of the plane came to rest. To the left, a single propeller blade sticks out of the water, a sad reminder of what was once a proud shape in the sky...

There are no words I can find to describe the emotions that haunted me at that very moment. Maybe it was the specific location of this crash site. So secluded, so claustrophobic, like a natural tomb, enclosed by the rocky outcrops. I wouldn't dare come here after dark. No matter how down-to-earth I am, I wouldn't risk it. Who knows what kind of ghosts float around this place when the darkness comes.
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 053.JPG

The second engine sits further away from the banks of the loch, near a small island:

As we walked around taking photos, a heavy shower came suddenly, like the sky decided to shed a few tears over this haunted place... We hid under a large boulder and waited for 10 minutes maybe, before it cleared again and we could continue... No, I don't think it's appropriate to call it "lurking". We were really careful not to step on anything let alone kick a metal part - even touching this 70 years old mangled metal felt like... stroking a lid of a coffin. Brrrrrr. :shock: :shock: Spooky indeed.

The area where the parts are scattered is quite large, I bet we didn't find all of it, more is probably hidden in vegetation, or even buried in mud.

I remembered the movie called "Memphis Belle". The Belle in the film was a different type of bomber, B17F Flying Fortress and it didn't crash, but I couldn't escape the comparison, hence the title of this report.
Possible impact zone:
ImageDSCF8827 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
From another angle:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 071.JPG

This half-decomposed piece of rubber made me shiver... For a few seconds I thought it was a burned bodypart! Arghhh, my vivid imagination!

One more panorama, looking south from the higher ground where large parts of the wreckage lay. The sticking out propeller well visible in the center of the photo:

Half-buried part of the undercarriage:
Image2017-06-15 fairy lochs 089 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Close-up of the propeller blade:
Image2017-06-15 fairy lochs 093 by Ewa Dalziel, on Flickr
Zoom to the second engine:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 094.JPG

Some mangled metal in the loch:

I don't know how much time we spent in this spooky "sanctuary" but it left me emotionally drained. I have seen many episodes of "Air crash investigations" but it's so different to watch even the most shocking images on the screen while in the safety of your own warm sofa, and so much different to actually stand there, among the sad remains of what was once a plane :( It was like the ghosts of the past reached through time and touched me on the shoulder :? :?
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 077.JPG

We left the crash site eventually, as another shower bearing cloud was coming. To our left, we passed loch no. 3:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 111.JPG

Around the corner, we came across some more debris from the plane:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 114.JPG

Looking back to the crash site:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 116.JPG

We continued on the path, which became even more muddy, a heavy shower came and went in less than 10 minutes - at least it wasn't constant rain!
Across a boggy meadow we walked (tuft-jumped) to a gate in a fence:

Now, it was easier walking on much improved path to Loch Braigh Horrisdale:
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 124.JPG

Here, the path joins a better track with nice views around to the countless rocky lumps and bumps. Shame it began to rain again!
2017-06-15 fairy lochs 133.JPG

Looking back to Loch Braigh Horrisdale, the largest of the cluster of lochs and a good place for a longer break - weather permitted of course.

Rocky bumps just waiting to be explored... Sadly, weather decided for us, that it was time to go home. We were glad though, that we caught a drier moment when on the crash site.

The track took as all the way back to Shieldaig. Surprisingly, my cross trainers didn't leak and I still had dry feet after all that bog-trudging! Should I send a thank you note to the producer of High-tech shoes? :wink:
This walk left me with mixed feelings. It was an interesting place to see and photograph, but I still feel a touch of sadness now, writing this report. The ghosts from the past definitely stirred my emotions. I hope the souls of those lost boys found their way home after all :( If you follow my footsteps and decide to visit the spookiest spot in Scotland, please, please don't move any wreckage, don't kick it around, and don't take anything home (why would anyone want a piece of plane at home is beyond me anyway?). Respect this site and the memory of people who died here.
The plane theme continued, as two days later we visited another crash site, but first, a story about goats and brandy - TR to come soon.
Last edited by BlackPanther on Mon Dec 02, 2019 12:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The ghosts of the Belle

Postby Mal Grey » Tue Jul 04, 2017 11:46 am

Very moving, thanks for sharing your walk, and your thoughts.
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Re: The ghosts of the Belle

Postby Sunset tripper » Thu Jul 06, 2017 7:31 am

That was great to read BP and yes very moving. These type of sites are poignant places to visit. It certainly puts life in perspective.
A few years ago I visited an air crash site near Ben More Assynt.
An Avro Anson was lost on the hillside on 13th April 1941 in severe winter conditions. Its thought some survived the crash and one even tried to go for help but the conditions were too harsh for anyone to make it.
Because the wreckage wasn't found for several weeks and it was wartime a decision was made to bury the six men on the hillside. This is very unusual and I think it is the highest altitude war grave in the UK.
I joined a friend at Inchnadamph who was doing a version of the Cape Wrath Trail. We parted along the track and I went alone up to the crash site. It was misty when I arrived and like you said very spooky. I reckon it gets very few visits each year. Here's a couple of photos from that day after the mist cleared.

A fairly new memorial stone which was put in place by the RAF and a chinook.
20140509_140908-1 - Copy.jpg

One of the engines in its final resting place.
20140509_141248 (640x480).jpg

If you haven't visited this place already it is marked on the 1:25,000 OS map as a grave at NC 294 231
I would highly recommend a visit
All the best
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Re: The ghosts of the Belle

Postby BlackPanther » Fri Jul 07, 2017 11:11 am

I haven't been to the Assynt site, but I remember reading about it when looking for information about potential sites to visit. Thanks for the details - it looks spooky!
This page (BTW a great database!) has a photo of the new grave being installed in 2013 - they used a helicopter to put it in place:

It's definitely on our to-do list, I'm trying to plot a sensible walk, maybe climbing the northern tops of Conival via Loch nan Cuaran, there is a path marked on 25k map all the way to the loch. We have already done most of classified tops in this whole area (one Corbett and one Graham left) so this is a superb idea for an alternative route.
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Re: The ghosts of the Belle

Postby Sgurr » Fri Jul 07, 2017 11:31 am

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Re: The ghosts of the Belle

Postby Sunset tripper » Sat Jul 08, 2017 12:44 am

BlackPanther wrote:
It's definitely on our to-do list, I'm trying to plot a sensible walk, maybe climbing the northern tops of Conival via Loch nan Cuaran, there is a path marked on 25k map all the way to the loch.

Yes that's the easiest route in. You leave the main path at a fork where there is an open wooden shelter with a turfed roof. Then follow the path up to Loch nan Cuaran where the path ends. From there navigation is easy. You can follow the shore of the loch to the outflow then follow the burn downstream for a very short distance to the fork then upstream to the crash site. When I got close there was a cairn with some metal in it which was a bit eerie in the clag.

Here's a rough draft of the route I took. :D

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Re: The ghosts of the Belle

Postby BlackPanther » Sun Jul 09, 2017 5:24 pm

Sunset tripper wrote:Here's a rough draft of the route I took. :D

Thanks again! This definitely goes high onto my list. Kevin likes the idea too. A good walk in the far north direction! At the moment we are preoccupied by bagging Munros down south, but this is something we're now looking forward to. Just bring on a good day...
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