Follow the brown signs
The Olympic torch makes it way up the gorgeous west coast of Scotland today as it crosses over the Highlands to the north east, travelling from Glasgow to Inverness. Watching the live coverage and seeing those surroundings is making me go a bit weak at the knees quite frankly, just a tad jealous of those torch bearers at the moment.
The Mose and I drove all the way up to Inverness for New Year’s Eve a few years ago on a spontaneous we’re-depressed-with-London-so-we’re-flicking-everyone-the-Vs-and-going-to-Scotland road trip (the kind of road trip we’re best at).
We hit the Grampian mountains at dusk and slowly wound our way up through thick falling snow and gorgeous but death inducing Christmas card landscapes while I tried to admire the scenery. I was also trying to quell my rising feelings of impending doom as my car made noises it shouldn’t make, noises that in car language mean “I’m going to diiiieeeeee, diiieeeee I tell you!” and all I could envisage was me and my sister sitting frozen in a car that had conked out halfway up a mountain consumed by an enormous snow drift, never to be seen again. Despite my anxiety though The Mose was rocking out to Dr Dre, taking photographs and generally remaining totally unaware of how close we were to disaster, she has far too much faith in my appalling car and my driving skills. Good old Mose.
The work situation today makes this brown signed destination of the day a quickly chosen one I’m afraid (I’ll get the sack if I keep spending all my time writing this blog) but it’s nevertheless an excellent one. My arbitrary picking of a town along the torch relay route came up trumps, it turns out that the town I’d chosen, Spean Bridge (I was attracted by the name) is a brown signed destination in itself. A lot of cities and towns around the UK have brown signs, usually they have historic significance or are “of interest to the tourist” so they get their own brown sign shaped accolade, and Spean Bridge has some very interesting historic significance indeed.
The town is named after the historic High Bridge which was built over the Spean River in 1736. The design turned out to be less than adequate however and in 1913 it finally collapsed into the river below. This is a picture of the bridge in 1899 when it was still standing (but looking worse for wear), now only the pillars remain (how amazingly creepy and compelling *shivers*). A new bridge over the Spean, built by Thomas Telford in 1816 superseded High Bridge which spelt the demise and abandonment. I like a town with a bit of industrial heritage and Spean Bridge exists wholly due to the building of an early industrial heritage bridge, making it quite literally a piece of industrial heritage in itself – excellent.
Another thing Spean Bridge is notable for is it’s military history. During WWII the mountains and lochs around the town and the Great Glen area provided suitably difficult terrain perfect for training British Commando Forces, and at nearby Anchnacarry Castle a dedicated training camp was established in 1942. This 17 foot sculpture of 3 commandos (photo by P A Woodward via Wikipedia) looking over where the camp used to be stands as a memorial to the Commandos who died during the war, the inscription on the stone plinth poignantly reads “In memory of the officers and men of the commandos who died in the Second World War 1939–1945. This country was their training ground.” Remembrance Day services are held here every year and a remembrance garden built in 2007 commemorates commandos who have died in later conflicts in Afganistan, Iraq and The Falklands.
So next time you see a town marked by a brown sign take a little detour and discover what it has to show you, it might be a war memorial or a collapsed bridge, or a whole host of cool things to see you’d never even know existed unless you got inspired by the sign and went to discover them for yourself. It’ll be worth the effort, I promise.