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Scars of Scaraben part 1

Scars of Scaraben part 1

Postby BlackPanther » Mon Jul 27, 2020 11:42 am

Date walked: 10/07/2020

Time taken: 1.5 hours

Distance: 5 km

Ascent: 172m

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Three years ago, the middle of unusually hot spring, we visited the highest hills of Caithness.Scaraben might not be the most interesting mountain shape-wise, but it offers superb views to the remaining "weirdos" (Morven, Smean, Maiden Pap). 2017 was well before we started our new hobby - visiting and photographing air crash sites, so when we found a piece of suspiciously-looking aluminum, we just assumed: OK, a plane must have crashed here in the past, but we never investigated it in detail. Now I know that there are at least four different air crash sites on/around Scaraben, so as part of our post-lockdown holidays, we decided to return to this hill, climb it again just for the pleasure of walking the ridge and seeing the views again, and as a bonus, we would try finding some of these historical sites.

The most known of Scaraben's scars is not on the slopes of the Graham but on a nearby 248m top, Creag na h-Iolaire aka The Eagle Rock. Technically, a visit to this site could be incorporated into a longer circuit of Scaraben tops, but we didn't know if there was a safe crossing of Berriedale Water, so decided to approach it as a separate short walk.
The spot we were aiming for is a part of a well known story, surrounded by myths and conspiracy theories. The plane was Short Sunderland Mk.III W4026 and here is what "Aircraft wrecks, the walker's guide" says about it:
"Transporting Air Cdre HRH The Duke of Kent and his entourage to Iceland, the aircraft departed from RAF Invergordon in the Highlands at 13:10. Approximately 30 minutes later it flew into the cloud covered high ground while on a northerly track, having diverged from the planned route. Sgt Jack the sole survivor made his own way off the hill, arriving at a croft the following morning. As a result the local men who arrived at the site in the hours after the accident thought there were no survivors.
(...)When it came to the salvage of the wreck, special instructions were issued, that every piece of wreckage was to be cleared from the site. However, a few tiny pieces were overlooked."

In 1946 the Ministry of Works asked a local contractor to erect two memorials at the site. The main monument is in the shape of a Celtic cross rising from a plinth and it commemorates all those who died that day. The second, smaller monument marks the place where the body of the Duke of Kent was found.
The whole story is highly controversial but I feel like this forum is not a place to analyze conspiracy theories so I'd like to concentrate on the site and the accident itself. More details about the site can be found on Undiscovered Scotland page here:
There is also a very good documentary about the Eagle Rock accident, called WWII Air Crash Detectives (season 1, episode 6). It is available on youtube in good quality. Highly recommended!
Back to our walk...

Track_DUKE OF KENT 5KM.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Weather was unsettled today and on the way up north we drove through several sharp showers, but none of them lasted longer than 10 minutes. It was quite windy even on low levels, but between the showers it was sunny enough for some decent photos.
The Eagle Rock site can be approached from the south-east from the A9, but we preferred walking from the north, from the access road to Braemore. We found suitable parking spot in an old disused quarry (marked on 1-25k map).
2020-07-10 scaraben 001.JPG

From the road, it's about 2.5km walking across boggy moorland to the crash site, almost in a straight line with little ascent/descent en route. We expected pathless terrain, so we were pleasantly surprised to find ATV track starting in the right direction only a short distance from the quarry.
Kevin, I found a path! Scaraben in the background:
2020-07-10 scaraben 004.JPG

Morven, Smean and Maiden Pap:
2020-07-10 scaraben 005.JPG

The track goes over Cnoc na Feadaig and makes for easy navigation. Note: the fence marked on 1-25k map doesn't exist any more.
We knew about the monument on the site, but from the top of the first hill we couldn't see it. The monument is at ND111284, on the eastern slopes of Creag na h-Iolaire. In the photo below I marked the rough spot with an arrow:
2020-07-10 scaraben 012.JPG

We crossed the wet dip of Meur na h-Earraige and contoured around the eastern side of the hill. A short distance north of the monument itself we came across this plaque:
2020-07-10 scaraben 107.JPG

This is the exact spot where the body of the Duke of Kent was found, on Tuesday 25 August 1942. He is, of course, not buried here, but the place was marked:
2020-07-10 scaraben 018.JPG

Only a few steps from the plaque, we located the impact crater of the plane crash:
2020-07-10 scaraben 023.JPG

Sadly, next to nothing remains here, apart from a few very small bits of molten aluminum, but the crater is definitely the right shape and size for a plane crash site:
2020-07-10 scaraben 120.JPG

This picture, taken from higher up the slope, shows the position of both the plaque and the impact crater, when looking north-east:
2020-07-10 scaraben 137.JPG

Inside the crater, we found a few small remnants of the tragedy - tiny pieces of metal from the plane:
2020-07-10 scaraben 111.JPG

2020-07-10 scaraben 117.JPG

Soon Kevin noticed the main monument:
2020-07-10 scaraben 122.JPG

A short walk across the heathery ground brought us to the memorial:
2020-07-10 scaraben 130.JPG

The names of all victims of the crash are engraved in the monument:
2020-07-10 scaraben 026.JPG

Looking east from the crash site:
2020-07-10 scaraben 127.JPG

On the other side of Borgue Roy burn, we spotted the remnants of an iron age broch:
2020-07-10 scaraben 032.JPG

It is locally known as "Borgroy" and as far as I know, it hasn't been excavated. The overall diameter is 16m and the height is up to 14ft. Sadly, it is totally ruined and reminds a random pile of stones. We didn't have time to investigate it in detail. Canmore database has some information about it HERE.
We spend some time by the monument, thinking about the past times. So many young people lost their lives on remote mountain slopes, usually as a result of bad weather, technical error or human mistake. Despite the lack of large pieces of the plane itself, we found The Eagle Rock even more poignant than the other sites we had visited, probably because of the cloud of unsolved mystery, surrounding this crash.
2020-07-10 scaraben 027.JPG

We returned the way we came (more or less) and drove to the car park in Braemore. The second part of my story involves traversing Scaraben and searching for the second crash site. To be posted soon.
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Re: Scars of Scaraben part 1

Postby Sgurr » Mon Jul 27, 2020 12:12 pm

Rather flippant of me to say that the only "scar" we can remember on Scaraben was having R's mountain cap plucked from his head by the fierce wind when we dared to look over the summit shelter and blown probably miles. Not so bad, as he had picked it up on Beinn Liath Mhor a'Ghiubhais Li washed the mould off it and put goretex patches on the holes deer had nibbled, so it was of sentimental rather than financial value. Turnbull in a short essay wrote that mountain headwear has its own agenda skipping from head to head as finds.

So I am glad that you investigated the more serious side for us. Very interesting. I love those "weird" protuberances of the north.
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Re: Scars of Scaraben part 1

Postby dogplodder » Mon Jul 27, 2020 12:51 pm

That's most interesting. If I'd gone there I'd not have known any of that and would probably have missed seeing most of what you saw. There is some sense in following panther tracks. :lol:
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Re: Scars of Scaraben part 1

Postby BlackPanther » Tue Jul 28, 2020 6:03 pm

I have now posted the second part of our Scaraben day :D

I find those moments spent on crash sites very sobering. As I had already written in my previous posts describing crash sites, we don't do it just for fun even if visiting such site makes the walk more interesting. This particular site has a nice monument, but some others are completely forgotten. By visiting the spot, taking photos and researching the story behind each accident, we are simply trying to pay our respect to the heroes of the past.

The north-east is full of such secrets. And the hills themselves are crackers. Hopefully, my TRs give justice to the "weird shapes" of Caithness and Sutherland.
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