Bells @ Stonehaven - by Duncan Harley

Alongside the Art Deco buildings - one an open air pool, the second a splendidly new curry house aptly named 'Carron to Mumbai' - Stonehaven has quite a lot going for it.
With Dunnottar just around the headland and two of Scotland’s most famous chippers – one wins accolades for best battered fish in Scotland-shire, while another deep fries chocolate bars to order ... what’s not to like about the place.

I gave the seaside town a good few mentions in my Our Town Leopard Magazine articles. Robert Burns, the Raedykes Mons Graupius connection and that Highland Boundary Fault made it onto the pages of the now sadly defunct periodical.

Hitler’s Bunker, fresh seafood, fine dining and New-Year arson inhabited the pages. And, inevitably some war history made it into print in my A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire book as well.

We, Janice and I, had been checking out the Cowie Stop Line. In case you’ve never heard of it, it’s a largely forgotten part of the Stonehaven history.
In the dark days of 1939, Stonehaven bay was assessed by military planners and, alongside much of the Eastern Scottish coastline, seen as vulnerable to invasion by foreign nationals from the Eurozone.

“Accordingly, a defensive line running from the mouth of the Cowie Water all the way inland as far as Braemar, was constructed. One of three defensive lines or ‘Stop Lines’ constructed in the Aberdeen area, the Cowie Defence Line was by far the most extensive when compared to those on the Rivers Dee and Don.
Exploiting the natural features of the landscape, pillboxes and anti-tank blocks were placed at strategic points, such as road and rail bridges, and the river banks were cut away in many places to form impassable barriers intended to divert and slow down enemy mechanised transport long enough to allow counter-attacks to be organised.”

And there was more. We came across what we assumed was a granite-built WW2 pillbox just South of the town at Ury House. Nowadays on a fast-track to becoming a wedding venue, Ury House has a splendidly chequered history. Fraser’s, Hay’s and Barclays inhabited the estate and all have their tales to tell.

At the time of our visit, the big house was in ruins and rumour had it that it would become a golf-hotel.

From a invaders point of view, the route through Ury Estate looks to be an easy one. A Nazi era Michelin Guide might well have read:

“After making landfall at the inlet which is called Stonehaven, head inland via Ury Estate before taking up defensive positions overlooking both the railway and the Dundee to Aberdeen main road. Then head North to Dyce to capture the aerodrome there.”
Anyway, back to those bells. 

On September 7 1940, invasion from Norway looked to be imminent. The tides were right and the weather looked favourable. As tension built, Scottish Command – the military HQ charged with co-ordinating coastal defences - circulated a signal with the codeword ‘Cromwell’ attached alerting the troops on the ground that the German’s were coming.

Sappers set off to blow up the road between Braemar and the Devil’s Elbow and the poorly armed Home Forces manned the coastal defences.
The 'Cromwell’ signal reached Stonehaven at around 10.02pm. It was a warning that the enemy was landing from the air and that landing craft were on their way.

Convinced that German troops had already been sighted, the church-bells of Stonehaven rang out a warning of an imaginary invasion.

Oh, and that granite pill-box? 

Well, it turns out that for reasons known only to the Polish troops who were tasked with the construction, the double layer of granite was simply used as shuttering for the pouring in of concrete.

So, it’s actually a concrete structure with granite walls. Who would have thought.

(As an update. We were at Cowie Shore on the 7th at around 7pm. It was a calm sea that night but amongst the swishing waves and the sound of gulls, there were bells. Yes, I swear it.
Either the Germans were coming, or someone had read my blog.)

Duncan Harley


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