Barnton Quarry Bunker

It’s not what you expect to find in Scotland’s capital city, right next to the zoo – A WWII and Cold War bunker complex in the middle of a golf course. Barnton Quarry produced high quality building stone up until about 1914, before being abandoned. Then, during in WWII, a large surface complex of buildings was built to act as the Operations Room for the Turnhouse Sector of RAF Fighter Command.

The main Ops Room:

The surface building also contains a canteen, offices, workshops and accommodation.

In 1952, the bunker gained a second life, as a R4 ROTOR bunker – ROTOR was a radar-based early warning system, built in a rush to combat the Soviet threat, but rapidly made obsolete by faster jet bombers and ICBMs. Barnton was the Sector Operations Centre (SOC) for the Scottish Sector. This involved digging an angled tunnel down into the quarry’s stone:

And building three underground levels under the walls of the quarry:

This major upgrade was meant to be atom-bomb-proof, and had it’s own air conditioning plant:

When ROTOR was discontinued it was again abandoned, until in the 1960s when it was modified again to become a Regional Seat of Government (RSG) – the idea was that, in the event of nuclear war, the Secretary of State for Scotland and his cabinet would retreat to the bunker where he would be able to continue the business of government, with even a soundproofed BBC studio to broadcast to the country:

It’s hard to imagine how this was ever intended to remain secret – for one thing, the locals were well aware of the hundreds of trucks bringing rubble to pile on top of the bunker – but that was the idea until Good Friday 1963 when a group called “Spies for Peace” revealed the location of all fourteen RSGs.

Abandoned again, the bunker briefly gained notoriety in 1972 when it was found and raided by a couple of Edinburgh lads who, amazingly, got away with piles of radio equipment and “Secret” documentation, which they kept in their garden shed. Inevitably they were caught four months later, but were let off.

In 1984, the ownership of the bunker passed to Edinburgh City Council, then was sold to a Glasgow developer for £50,000 in 1987, then was offered for sale again in 1991 – before being sold, however, vandals broke in and using stacks of tyres and a truck they reversed down the tunnel started a massive fire – it burned for three days. Much of the underground bunker is now very fire-damaged:

Even areas which didn’t burn are very smoke-stained:

Some nice old touches still remain:

And it’s still an amazing place to explore:

There was a brief plan to convert the bunker into a backup water reservoir for Edinburgh – that failed. Rumours are that the bunker has been bought by the owner of the Fife “Secret Bunker” – now a tourist attraction – but it’s hard to see how anything can be done with this bunker because of the fire damage.

On a personal note, I’ve been properly scared climbing cranes and the like, I’ve been several miles underground with only one way back out, but this is one of the few places that really gave me the willies – too much Resident Evil I think…

The traditional “bloke in a tunnel” shot:

The Important Bit: The fire released a huge amount of asbestos, and being an almost-sealed bunker a lot of this is still airborne and easily stirred up. If you value your life, don’t visit without a good mask and use all sensible precautions.

Watch a full-screen slideshow, or browse the full image collection:

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