After Strand: the South Uist Rocket Range

The main stimulus for Paul Strand's choice of Benbecula and South Uist for the first of his travel photography books was to document a self-sufficient and remote community at a moment of great change, with the siting of a rocket test and tracking range on the islands in the Cold War of the 1950s. The range was opened in 1957 and it is the UK's largest.

Strand never returned to the islands to document construction of the facility, but I thought it appropriate for me to do so now.

The launch site is at the western end of the village of Geirinis near Loch Bi: interestingly the gates were open and there were no 'Keep Out' or 'Secret' signs so it looks like the general public could just walk in - I felt under surveillance, though, and didn't enter! It is shown in some detail on Google Earth.


The tracking radar installation sits on top of Ruabhal a little further south east, and I understand there are or were also components on Benbecula, North Uist and St. Kilda.

Click on the images to open them in a Lightbox

I have linked to some resources below, including reference to Compton Mackenzie's little-known 1950s book and film 'Rockets Galore' (known as 'Mad Little Island' in the US) in which residents of the fictional island of Todday sabotaged attempts by the British military to establish a rocket base in the Western Isles. The employment provided locally is now seen as a major bonus, so feelings in the islands seem to have changed.

Finding Strand: the location of 'Tir a Mhurain'