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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, February 07, 2007
    Bringing the world's wars home
    Scenes of rare beauty on Scotland's west coast photographed by Simon Norfolk in Granta 96 - a soaked shallow beach mirroring wide skies in South Uist, tiny islets off a Scalpay harbour, pockmarked green Cape Wrath clifftops, a white goose sheltering beside a red phone kiosk on Loch Goil.

    Yet Norfolk titles his photo essay Military Landscapes. For all the beauty in these places they conceal the ugliness of war; for all the peacefulness in these places they daily shudder beneath the sonic booms of fighter planes, or are physically blasted by practice bombardments. The South Uist beach is a missile testing range, Scalpay hosts the Lochmaddy Submarine Exercise Area, those Cape Wrath clifftops are pockmarked because they are an Impact Zone of naval and aerial bombardment, and on Loch Goil while the white goose shelters HMS 'Richmond' is undergoing sound signature testing.

    Granta 96 is dedicated to writing on War Zones, and well done Granta on ensuring that they don't all describe far away places from which we readers can readily distance ourselves. James Buchan writes on Trident, hidden among the scenic waterways of the Clyde estuary at Faslane. John Burnside describes in excruciating detail his experiences at the hands of a childhood bully in Whitland. And Norfolk's pictures are introduced by Granta editor Ian Jack whose project has revealingly, brought the world's wars home:

    Today, the Scottish west coast continues to be the most heavily armed region of Britain and quite possibly Europe, offering mountains and glens for low-flying fighter and bomber exercises, sea and moorland for uranium-depleted artillery fire, underground storage for nuclear weapons and naval fuel, emergency moorings for nuclear submarines. I go there every summer. The loveliness of the changing light on sea and mountain makes it hard to imagine the ominous technology buried beneath.