Posted on: July 17, 2013

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I have to say this is the eeriest place I have been in for quite some time. There is something about these top secret facilities, built to safeguard the chosen few in the event of an all-out nuclear war, which can’t fail to elicit an emotional response from anyone of a similar vintage to me, who grew up in the Cold War era.
It’s location is suitably dramatic, set as it is in the middle of wind-blasted open countryside on the Scottish east coast. From a distance it looks like an ordinary stone-built farmhouse … except that it is surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire, and an array of military tanks.
You go into the “farmhouse”, buy a ticket, go through a turnstile, descend a flight of concrete steps, and suddenlyyou’re in this whole new world, horribly reminiscent of dozens of apocalyptic and zombie films I’ve seen over the years. The heavily institutional corridors and stairways burrowing into the bowels of the earth, the dorm with its rows of bunkbeds, plus the obligatory dart-board, all give it a suitably depressing feel.
Walking around with the handset tour-guide apparatus, I was informed about the doors keeping out the radiation-infected hordes outside. It would have been like being buried alive, with the infected zombies beating on the doors to get in. Amongst all the horror of this place though, the dark farce of war comes through as well. The radio station room for instance, where some poor sod of a DJ would broadcast uplifting music to the contaminated hordes outside. You can even see the dusty old LPs on display there. There was also the unmistakeable voice of the actor Patrick Allen, giving us the lowdown on the which types of sirens to listen out for.
By the time I’d listened to that I was feeling quite emotional, so we went into the subterranean coffee-shop. This windowless room is painted throughout in salmon pink, with jolly red-and-white checked tablecloths, and – for an extra surreal touch – bunting strung across the room. The music being broadcast seemed to be a bizarre mix of the Andrew Sisters, Petula Clark, and the Stranglers (I can’t vouch for that, although I’m of punk rock vintage, I’m not that well clued-up on it).
We were told on going in that in the event of a nuclear war, the sexes down here would have been kept strictly segregated, men and women eating entirely separately. (I’m presuming the urgent need to re-populate the earth would come later).
The nearby underground (literally) cinema was showing a choice of the old Protect And Survive videos, and the utterly terrifying 1960s film ‘The War Game’. This was banned by the BBC for nearly 20 years, finally being shown in 1985 to mark the 40th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It still packs an incredibly powerful punch. It’s grainy black-and-white images unflinchingly depicting the horror of a nuclear attack on Britain. It is impossible to forget the line concerning the sound of a mega-bomb hit, as being like a huge door slamming in the depths of Hell.
The film is remarkable too for going into the psychological trauma the survivors would face. One of the film’s advisors had been a psychiatrist, who had looked at the extreme mental trauma suffered by survivors in Japan in 1945.
By the time the film was over we agreed that sitting through Protect And Survive would be just too much as well, so we descended even further down. Frankly, we did have a good laugh at the antiquated computers and telex machines on display, which I do remember using (back in the day).
Suddenly a forbidding male voice came over the PA System. Oh God, what? I thought. “The coffee-shop closes in one hour”, he intoned, darkly. Oh. Right.
The communications area was every bit as surreal as everything else. In Scotland, church bells would have been rung to warn of a nuclear attack, and in remote areas WHISTLING would be used to warn of imminient fall-out!
The weapons room was an even more sobering experience. Not just for the ugly artillery on display, but for the knowledge that this was also where the cyanide pills were stashed. These were to be used if The Outside World was deemed too beyond hope to venture out in, or if the survivors got buried alive in the bunker. Not only would it be unlikely there would be anyone around to dig them out, but as the place was Top Secret, no one would know they were there anyway. As ‘The War Game’ had put it: “would the living end up envying the dead?”
All in all, a somewhat unusual way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and not to everyone’s tastes, but in some odd way I would recommend it, particularly if, like me, you grew up hearing the old “4-Minute Warning” jokes. We survived, to see all this turned into a museum.



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