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  • Writer's pictureStephen Jennings

Site in Focus - RAF Garth's Ness

Sometimes referred to locally as the 'listening station', the collection of buildings at Garth's Ness now in complete disrepair is a former NATO LORAN A radio navigation station. With a remarkable amount of equipment, fixtures and furniture still on site it is in many ways a brief snapshot of the day it was abandoned and a fascinating glimpse at how quickly buildings and materials break down in the harsh Shetland climate. Although many will associate Garth's Ness with more recent and tragic news items (the MV Braer running aground in 1993 and more recently in 2013 when parts washed ashore from the Super Puma L2 that ditched on approach to Sumburgh) it is the LORAN station with which we are here concerned.

LORAN A, often known simply as LORAN (Long Range Navigation), was a hyperbolic radio navigation system (see 'Links for Further Information') developed by the U.S. military during World War II to aid ship convoys and long range patrol aircraft crossing the Atlantic. Although accurate only to tens of miles, it remained in use into the late 1970s and early 1980s due to cost and surplus equipment relative to more accurate systems (LORAN B & LORAN C) developed later all of which have been replaced today by GPS. Our station at Garth's Ness was commissioned in 1961 as a 'master' and paired with its 'slave', Newton Point in England, until December 31st 1977 followed by official decommissioning in January of 1978.

What remains on the outside are two elongated buildings each approximately 30 x 7 metres and offset one another with a much smaller third building which housed a generator and myriad other machines to keep the site operational. The entire complex was tightly contained within a barbed wire perimeter and a security gate 20 metres away on the eastern corner. It is unclear how many persons were stationed at the facility though it is evident building one, the southernmost, was the operational centre while building two, the northernmost, contained barracks, latrines and kitchen facilities supporting unlikely much more than a dozen personnel at any one time.

And while the buildings and the general site is disappearing some conspiratorial attention is not. As alluded to earlier, the reference as a 'listening station' is rather ominous and in many minds relates to the Cold War. Perhaps it was a monitoring station as well as navigational, only those sworn to secrecy can tell us this (but then, dead men don't tell tales - or so it's been said). While this is surely plausible, a more recent conspiracy that the location is a top secret alien base is...perhaps not. Despite former LORAN stations apparently being a hotbed for alien activity we rather think the neighbours might have noticed some of this recent activity.

Then again, perhaps they are in on it or, worse still, maybe they're the alien perps...

Save yourselves!

Top to Bottom: Generator from Equipment Building, Operational Centre in Building One, Kitchens in Building Two


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