Secret? Well it’s not that secret anymore but it was for many years. Just north of Edinburgh on the east coast is Scotland’s Secret Bunker and Nuclear Command Centre. Now open to the public and completely restored it was a must-see visit for us on our recent East Coast trip.
Where is this Top Secret Bunker?
Located in a secret, unknown location in the Kingdom of Fife not far from the town of Anstruther. So secret in fact that there are brown tourist signs from the A917 at Crail taking all the way there. It does feel a bit like you have taken a wrong turning though as the bunker is situated in the middle of a field miles from anywhere down a tiny country lane. Obviously no-one was aware of its existence for years and as you enter the site and park it still feels a bit of a hidden gem.
What’s the history of this place?
Built in 1951 as part of the UK’s early warning radar system, the bunker is 100 feet underground beneath an ordinary looking farmhouse. A bit like a James Bond villains headquarters with secret doors and corridors taking you down to a massive military base. Once radar developed the bunker was closed in the 1950s and reopened as a nuclear command centre which could house government ministers and up to 300 personnel.
Amazingly it was operational right up to the late 1980s when the cold war came to an end. That really isn’t that long ago. An enterprising businessman bought the site in 1994 opening it to the public soon after and it’s now one of Scotlands major tourist attractions (Scotland’s Secret Bunker).
What was it actually designed for?
In the event of a nuclear attack the bunker would have become home to Scotlands government and it’s military command centre. The whole country would have been run from there. It had hundreds of telephone lines, vast air conditioning systems, long-term food storage, state of the art water filtration, living space for 300, and everything a small underground town would require. All hidden 100 feet under a small Scottish farmhouse.
Scotland’s Secret Bunker
Visitors can now see exactly what it would have been like in the 1960s and 70s as every room has been restored in painstaking detail and it’s a fascinating place to visit. After paying the entry fee we passed through the little shop and down a small circular staircase. There in front of us was the eerie yellow-lit tunnel dropping away into the distance. The only way in and out.
Both Jo and I were in the UK military so found the whole place unbelievably interesting from the cramped telephone exchange to the operations rooms to the familiar military living quarters lined with uniformly laid-out beds. Brought back so many memories of bed packs and inspections.
The attention to detail is beyond compare as accurate documents relating to the UKs nuclear history sit on commanding officers desks and huge wall-mounted maps display actual potential enemy strike-zones. There is so much to see spread over two huge levels and multiple rooms and offices. And there appeared to be several ‘do not enter’ spaces on top of that.
So many photographs and stories from the operational years lined the walls and it did actually feel like we’d stepped back in time. The only slightly uncomfortable part of the whole experience was a couple of films that were being shown about nuclear war and it’s ramifications. Supremely interesting but perhaps not for the faint-hearted or children. Brilliant to see what it looked like in it’s hey-day though.
Apparently all through the active years of service the bunker always had a resident cat that was looked after by the servicemen and women stationed there and it’s no different today. Cleo lives in the tunnels and underground rooms and can be seen wandering around oblivious to the visitors occasionally posing for photos.
She kept her distance but we also spied another feline resident even more camera-shy. Jo was insistent that this other cat was a soviet spy of some sort but I’m not sure we can prove that.
We did leave with a few questions though such as how did they manage to actually build this place so secretly with all of the hundreds of tons of concrete needed and the diggers required? Who delivered all of the equipment? Where did all of the food and drink come from? How long did service personnel have to stay underground at a stretch? More research is definitely required but there is still relatively little about it on the web or anywhere so perhaps it is a little secret even now?
Scotland’s Secret Bunker
No-one we’ve spoken to before or since our visit has been to the bunker and most people, even locals, don’t seem to have even heard of the place but we would recommend it one hundred percent. A fabulous place to visit to really appreciate just how serious the nuclear threat was only 30 years ago. One of our best days out ever!