The Earthquake House

The first time I experienced a serious earthquake was in 1984 in Soviet Central Asia. We were in Uzbekistan, an area of high seismic activity, and though the local people took the quake in their stride, it left us more than a little shaken. It was soon obvious that the older, traditional, mudbrick houses ‘moved’ with the quake, thereby suffering little damage. But for the more modern Soviet buildings of concrete, steel and chrome, it was a different story altogether. Buckled metal and twisted doors were followed by a fair amount of consternation as to how, or even if, the damage could be repaired.

Fast forward to October 2005 and a family holiday on the Greek island of Zakynthos. On hearing a growing rumble, my first thought was that a very large plane was flying directly overhead. Living as we did then under the flight path to Glasgow airport, my initial reaction was one of annoyance – why was it that even on holiday we couldn’t escape the noise of those wretched planes! It didn’t take long however, to realise this was something very different, not an aircraft but an earthquake of magnitude 5.7.

Earthquakes can be fearsome things even when we know what’s causing them. But imagine what it must have been like for our ancestors as they tried to make sense of the mysterious and often destructive heaving of the planet. We can see their attempts to explain earthquakes in primitive myths and legends: those frightening tales of titans, giants and monsters. Tales of fearsome and unpredictable entities forever fighting, hurling huge, mountain-sized boulders at one another – causing, it was believed, earthquakes. And if not that, then blame the Wrath of God!

Fortunately we now have a far greater understanding of what causes earthquakes: of the geological forces behind Continental Drift and tectonic plates. Yet, the story of how we reached this understanding and the role played by the 19th century ‘Comrie Pioneers’ is a fascinating one. And one that I tell in issue 92 of iScot Magazine.


It’s not often that you get the opportunity to spend the night – or several nights, come to that – in a prisoner of war camp. A former POW camp obviously. But one that retains much of the look and feel of the original. Self-catering with a difference!

In some ways it might seem to be a bit of a time warp, but that would be deceptive. Cultybraggan started life as a POW camp and eventually housed some of the most brutal, die-hard Nazi prisoners – with grim results.

That was followed by nearly sixty years as a MOD training camp. Not only for regular army troops, but also for members of the Territorial Army, University Officer Training Corps and school cadets. But it’s a different being now. A community buy-out in 2007 saw to that.

Cultybraggan is an interesting example of how places change as time passes. It’s also interesting as a place where the past is still very visible.

And it’s also a place where good men, the likes of Germany’s Herbert Sulzbach and Scotland’s Hamish Henderson, worked with Nazi prisoners to try and break the mindset that had led to such barbarity and so much death.

Everywhere has its own unique history and its own story to tell. Cultybraggan certainly has a very unusual one. Hopefully one that will continue well into the future.

My article is in issue 91 of iScot magazine