In search of the cradle

Aslak Berge

Salmon Business seeks out the birthplace of Marine Harvest.

Several supply boats lie tied up in the outer basin of Aberdeen Harbour, at the mouth of the River Dee. A handful of other supply boats are anchored just offshore. Trade and industry is hard pressed here on the east coast of Scotland, not unlike that of Western Norway.

An overcast sky above us with clouds constantly changing form. Flurries of snow appear from the direction of the North Sea.

Snow in April
We get into our rental car, and drive westward.

We are on a mission to find the cradle that held the infant Marine Harvest.

Well clear of the oil industry hub of Aberdeen we continue along the road through lowland countryside dotted with large flocks of sheep. Rooks roam the fields in a hunt for food. The sun chases away the squalls of snow. We cross stone bridges, pass numerous stone walls and stone houses.

Time for a pit stop. After a hearty Scottish brunch we continue on our journey.

Now the flurries of snow have whipped up into a veritable blizzard.

The snow is piling up in the ditches and covering the fields along the road, as we venture forth to the Malt Whisky Trail near Keith. Located here are the distilleries of Chivas Brothers and Glenfiddich.

At Elgin we spy the 24-meter high statue of the fifth Duke of Gordon gazing down on the traffic driving past.

Just as we are crossing the fabled salmon river Spey, brisk winds turn the waters rough and choppy.

Soon after, we reach Inverness, capital of the Scottish Highlands. Here we meet our guide, Marine Harvest’s David Corrigan. In his black Marine Harvest pick-up he acts as our guide through the Highlands, along Loch Ness, in the direction of Fort William, and to our final destination, Lochailort.

The motorway from Inverness passes a sluice and enters the realm of Nessie. Here you have diverse five-star Loch Ness Lodges, Loch Ness Exploration Centre, Nessie Gift Shop and Nessieland. The Scots certainly know a thing or two about branding. It’s not just the country’s whisky that is sold for all it’s worth – its lakes can boast no less than three sea serpents, of which Nessie is unquestionably the most famous.

Corrigan stops the car, and shows us the way down to Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. Through the hedge we can see the castle ruin in all its glory.

“In fact I only discovered this place myself a month ago,” says Corrigan, insisting that he is telling the truth.

The Kilt
A good-humoured, sturdy Scot wearing a kilt, whose job is clearly to tout for business for the castle approaches us. With a smile we thank him but turn down the invitation to pay for entry to the ruins, before continuing on our way.

Narrow roads snake their way through the glen. Long and slender Loch Ness gives the impression it is the result of the blow of some mythical god’s axe to the Highland mountains. Several boats cruise casually on the loch.

The plan was to visit Marine Harvest’s smolt production facility here at Loch Ness. But Marine Harvest Scotland’s boss Steve Bracken had regretfully informed us beforehand that there are no fish at the facility. The weather has already delayed us, so we don’t have any other option than to forego the visit.

Spean Bridge. The snow-decked mountaintops rising behind us are the Caingorms. Just before we reach Fort William we spy ahead of us none other than Ben Nevis, the island kingdom’s highest peak (1,344 metres above sea level).

From Fort William we drive directly westward, in the direction of Mallaig. No longer do we see cultivated fields. The landscape is foreboding and inhospitable, with unproductive soils and craggy mountains. Desolate.

A half hour later we turn off the main road, just after the Lochailort Inn.

Three young deer are patrolling the mouth of the Ailort River. Soon the venerable Inverailort House comes into sight by the marshes furthest in the fjord arm of Loch Ailort.

Inverailort House: Headquarters for training of SOE and SAS commando soldiers.

“A commando base was sited here,” says Corrigan.

The Cradle
The manor, now no longer inhabited, was long a top secret site. It was here the British military intelligence organisations SOE and SAS were established during World War II. Just behind here was Sniper Alley, the training ground for marksmen, which included Norwegian commandos.

But time and nature have now hidden any traces from the war. Floating a few hundred yards away out on the loch are the cages of the oldest fish farm in Scotland. Next to Inverailort House, by Sniper Alley, is Marine Harvest’s two year old smolt production facility, built on the site of Unilever’s research station from 1965. This is where it all began.

52 years ago.


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