Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Exhibition at Caithness Horizons

These are a few of the paintings that I am exhibiting at Caithness Horizons, Thurso, throughout May.

 "Maiden Pap" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm

 "A Lonely Fishing Hut" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm

"Beat No.7 on the Thurso" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm

Monday, April 22, 2013

Secrets of Loch More

"Lochmore Cottage" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm

Next to the dam at Loch More is a cottage which I presume was built to house the water bailiff responsible for controlling the flow of water into the river. Nobody lives in the cottage now but it is still used by fishermen. While looking into the history of Lochmore Cottage I have discovered that it is thought by some people to have a connection with a couple of mysteries of World War II.

In 1942 Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, flew alone in an unarmed plane from Germany to Scotland. He was apparently hoping to land at Dungavel House, the home of the Duke of Hamilton who had supported appeasement with the Nazis before the war. Hess was unable to find somewhere to land and had to parachute out, after which he was captured. The reason for the flight has never been completely explained, but there are theories that he was intending to negotiate peace terms with the government, or even that he was intending to meet Nazi sympathisers in the British elite; members of the so-called “Peace Group”. Most historians think that he was probably just deluded, and thought that he could single-handedly arrange a peace treaty which would free the German military to concentrate on fighting the USSR.

The second mystery involves the Duke of Kent, the brother of the King. In August 1942 he set off from Invergordon on a flight to Iceland, supposedly on a morale-boosting visit to the British forces stationed there. The flying-boat was supposed to stay over the sea and follow a route along the coast, but thirty minutes into the flight it crashed into a hillside in the south of Caithness. There was only one survivor, the tail-gunner, who was apparently thrown clear. The cause of the crash has never been conclusively proven, and as a result all sorts of conspiracy theories have grown up around it.

One theory involves the connection with Loch More. It suggests that the Duke of Kent wasn't heading for Iceland on that day but was planning to land on the loch. It is claimed that Hess was being held at Lochmore Cottage. The plan was to pick him up and fly on to Sweden where he would conduct peace talks with the Nazis. Apparently the late Lord Thurso claimed in 1993, that he was aware as a teenager during the war that Hess was being held at Braemore Lodge, on a neighbouring estate. His mother had also told him that Hess had been at Lochmore Cottage. The theory holds that after taking off from the loch the heavily laden plane was unable to gain enough height and crashed into a hillside. However if this were the case it would have been approaching the crash site from the opposite direction to the one indicated by photographs of the wreckage. I also find it hard to believe that a fully laden Sunderland flying-boat could have taken off from the loch which is not much more than a mile long. A major problem with the theory though is that if Hess was killed in the crash, who was tried for war crimes at Nuremberg and subsequently held at Spandau Prison? Some people claim that he was an imposter, but if so, none of the acquaintances who visited him, including his wife and son, suspected anything.

The official explanation of the crash blames the pilot for making an unauthorised course change, but it doesn't give any reason for such an action. It may be a case of an innocent man being made into a scapegoat. The Hess connection is probably just fanciful, but it would be nice to think that lonely Loch More could have played a part in top-secret wartime events.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Loch More

"View Over Loch More" - watercolour - 19 x 29 cm

In the west of Caithness a long road follows the course of the Thurso out over the moors. The road ends at Loch More, where the water entering the river is controlled by a dam and weir. Occupying a shallow basin, the loch is surrounded by open moors and forest, with a view of distant mountains. The overall impression is of big skies and open spaces.

One curious aspect is that the exposed location allows the wind to create quite large waves on the water sometimes. These have worn the shores away, forming miniature cliffs in the peat in some places, while in others broad swathes of sand have been washed up. I believe that in former years, when people were happy with simpler pleasures, families used to travel out to the loch in the summer to spend the day on the beach. Now it's more popular with fishermen and people looking for a quite place to walk.