On the edge of Kinrive Forest, hidden in the side of Kinrive Hill, are two bolted doorways. Today they stand forgotten and unheeded, but during World War 2 they formed the entrance to a vital part of the British government’s defence plan against the Germans and their allies.

Secret fuel stores

Inchindown was one of three secret fuel stores constructed near the main naval anchorages in Britain, in this case Invergordon naval base. The tanks held a specific kind of fuel called Furnace Fuel Oil (FFO). The Royal Navy used this type of fuel for their ships until the late 1960s.

The government needed to keep stores of fuel, in case the German Navy managed to block the ports or destroy shipping convoys and stop fuel supplies reaching Britain from overseas. These supplies of fuel had to be hidden from view and protected or German planes would have targeted and tried to destroy them.

The fuel would make sure the Royal Navy could continue to protect Britain, no matter what happened. In 1941 the Germans did successfully destroy one of the above-ground oil tanks immediately beside Invergordon naval base.

Four miles of pipes connected Inchindown to the naval base, keeping it supplied with fuel and ready for action. The fuel flowed downhill from the stores to Invergordon, but restocking the tanks from the base was more problematic. To get the fuel back up hill they built three pumping stations, the largest located at Tomich.

Audio

Allan Kilpatrick of RCAHMS leading people around the secret fuel tanks as part of the Highland Archaeology Festival.

Kinrive Hill

The construction of the six fuel tanks inside Kinrive Hill was a major feat of engineering.

The tanks are enormous and held almost 32 million gallons of fuel. There were five main tanks and one smaller reserve one. The larger tanks were 9m wide by 237m long and 13.5m high; you could fit 16 double decker-buses end to end into one of these tanks.

The government contracted engineering firm William Arrol to build the depot, who in turn sub-contracted the work out, probably to the construction firm Yemen, Bald, and Hutchison.

It was not an easy task to hollow out the hill. Nor could it have been much of a secret. The hill was selected for its hard rock, and was deep enough to protect the tanks from bombing. They quarried over half a million tonnes of rock and dumped it on the hillside. This was visible from the air and the Germans probably knew about the construction.

Locals still remember the quarrying of the hill. As well as a local workforce, gangs of labourers from Ireland were hired.

Malcolm MacLeod recalls his father cycling the five miles and back from Adross to work a fourteen hour shift drilling the tunnels and tanks.

The tanks had no doors, only four circular pipes, through which men had to pass to reach the tanks. The staff lay flat on a gurney, a wheeled board, and slid down the pipes.Today the tanks are clean but it must have been a rather dirty and smelly job.

Please note, this site is not accessible to the public, other than on guided tours.

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