Invergordon is located on the Cromarty Firth north-shore and boasts stunning views towards the western Beins and Black Isle.
The shoreline road (B817) to Invergordon forms part of the historic Pictish Trail and the Ross and Cromarty Naval Trail both of which are a welcoming and less travelled detour off the A9 trunk road and Moray Firth Tourist Route.
Excavated out of solid rock under the hill at Inchindown between 1939 and 1941, the former Admiralty underground oil storage facility behind Invergordon was officially called “Inchindown Admiralty Underground Oil Storage Depot”. It was known throughout Easter Ross as The Tunnel.
The purpose of the storage depot was to provide a huge bomb-proof reserve supply of furnace oil for the warships of the home fleet. At that time there were many battleships, carriers and cruisers and they consumed thousands of tons of oil. With war looming, the huge above-ground tanks constructed at Invergordon in 1913 were vulnerable to air attack.
Construction at Inchindown, along with the four miles of trench for the large diameter oil pipes to the pier, provided much needed work in the area at a time of high unemployment. The main contractor was Baldry, Yerborough & Hutchison. Huge squads of workmen were engaged on the project. A camp for travelling workmen was built at nearby Castle Dobie. The workmen from local towns and villages cycled to the site, not a pleasant journey in the severe winters of that time. Their pay was about one shilling (5p) per hour. There are still men in the area who worked there and are now in their eighties.
The trench from Inchindown to Invergordon was dug by hand – there were no JCBs at that time. Inside the Tunnel the work was dangerous and unhealthy. There were no safety helmets in those days but paper masks were issued. Some of the workers contracted lung and chest problems and were unable to work in later years. It is believed that there were some fatalities, and other men injured by rock falls. There was little in the way of health and safety measures in those days. The rock excavated from the Tunnel was taken to a tip at the foot of the hill by a small railway. Some of it was used for construction purposes at the smelter years later.
Inchindown consists of six caverns or cells excavated in the rock together with two access tunnels. Each cell is 237 metres long x 9.14 metres x 13 metres and has a capacity of 5.6 million gallons. The cells are separated by 15 metre thick walls of intact rock and lined with an 18 inch thick layer of concrete. The service tunnels are also partially lined with concrete and contain the pipelines below floor level. The pipelines fed into the pump house at the crossroads at Tomich Farm and thence to Seabank Oil Depot and to the pier head, where the oil tankers loaded and discharged. Many tankers were lost in the war taking oil to Invergordon, some in the Moray Firth.
The above-ground tanks at Seabank were bombed in February 1941 by a low-flying German aircraft. Fortunately only one tank, no. 13, was hit, causing the thick black oil to flood the railway station and temporarily disrupt railway services. A bomb was also dropped at a farm near the pipeline to Inchindown, killing a sheep. Following this the fuel tanks were protected by thick blast-proof brick walls, with large numbers of bricklayers being engaged on this task.
After the war, fewer naval ships used the Cromarty Firth and not so much fuel oil was required, although oil continued to be stored at Inchindown until 1982. By then the Tunnel had served its purpose and was sold off. This little known site, together with the Seabank and Cromlet oil tanks, played no small part in the war at sea by providing the fighting ships of the fleet with the fuel they needed to perform their duties during the difficult years of World War 2.