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ROC Post Machrihanish

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Machrihanish ROC Post
Machrihanish ROC Post

Records indicated that a Royal Observer Corps (ROC) nuclear monitoring post had been located in the area of Machrihanish, on the Kintyre peninsula. Opened in 1963 as part of the United Kingdom's Cold War plans, it was closed in 1991 when the threat was considered to have receded.

The post appeared to be lost, possibly demolished, with no information logged in an online database project in 2002, other than its original 6 digit grid reference. Although these figures could be unreliable (being manually assessed, rather than by GPS), checking the map showed the lack of information may have been down to post's probable location lying within the perimeter of RAF Machrihanish.

A visit to the area was organised, which revealed that the indicated location was remote from any public roads. Although the area is relatively clear and flat, it is also huge, and much of it is inaccessible as it lies within the airfield perimeter fence. A visual check of all possible objects using binoculars failed to reveal anything remotely resembling a post. To reduce the area being searched, a number of sightings were taken of the grid reference, using GPS. These all centred on an area just over half a mile south of the road past Darlochan Farm. Binoculars showed the fields were clear, and that the perimeter fence bordered the suspect area. A white box could be seen just inside the perimeter, together with some other objects on the ground, but the fence obscured any detail.

Reaching the perimeter fence involved crossing three fields, and negotiating one electric fence (which may, or may not, have been powered, I wasn't being paid to test it!), but proved to be worth it, as the white box proved to be Stevenson Screen (probably part of the airfield weather monitoring system), sited next to the ROC post.

Fortunately, the post was only 10 metres within the perimeter fence, and this allowed a fairly complete set of pictures to be recorded through the wire mesh of the fence, and the slats of wooden fence located next to it.

A conversation with the farmer revealed that the wooden fence section was actually a Crash Gate, built of lightweight materials so that Emergency Service vehicles could crash straight through in case of an emergency on the airfield, avoiding the need to wait for access. The arrangement has one disadvantage, as the farmer's cattle can also crash through the lightweight gate should they decide to graze on the other side. Unlike the animals, the farmer is not permitted to enter the airfield unaccompanied, and has to report to the gatehouse for an escort before following and recovering them.

Following this visit, the airfield was contacted and permission granted for an official visit, allowing the post to be unlocked, providing the opportunity to make a properly documented and photographed record of the post's exterior and interior.


Local reports indicate that the post was used during Concorde flight tests, when the effects of supersonic flight were being recorded. Given its location, it would be fairly safe to assume that the Machrihanish post was one of those that also served as a METAR post, with the observers being trained and equipped to provide METeorological Aerodrome Reports.

Hill at NR6320, above Machrihanish Hotel ©
Hill at NR6320, above Machrihanish
© Raymond Okonski

The Cold War monitoring post was preceded by a World War II observer post located on higher ground to the south west at NR638207, about 1 kilometre to the east of Uisaed Point.

A number of monitoring posts were built on the site of former observer posts, both required a similarly clear sky view. However, a monitoring post also required ground conditions suitable for the construction of a room 15 ft below ground, a requirement which could not be satisfied at all the former surface sites.

A disused lifeboat shed lies near the site of the World War II post. During the war, it carried warning notices about high voltage equipment housed within. Radio installations were installed nearby, possibly associated with HMS Landrail. These were removed after the war, leaving a 200 foot lattice tower in place, similar to those of the Chain Home Low (CHL) radar system, but with an alternate design of aerial at the top.

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