RAF Saxa Vord
RAF Saxa Vord was a radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 station operated by the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

. It was situated on the island of Unst
Unst is one of the North Isles of the Shetland Islands, Scotland. It is the northernmost of the inhabited British Isles and is the third largest island in Shetland after the Mainland and Yell. It has an area of .Unst is largely grassland, with coastal cliffs...

, one of the Shetland Islands
Shetland Islands
Shetland is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north and east of mainland Great Britain. The islands lie some to the northeast of Orkney and southeast of the Faroe Islands and form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. The total...

 in the north of Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

. Its radar provided long-range coverage of the airspace to the North of Scotland. The station's motto "Praemoneo de Periculis", Forewarn of Danger, reflected its role.

The island of Unst has played an important part in the defence of the UK since the outbreak of the Second World War. By 1945, there were two radar sites in existence — one on Saxa Vord hill, and the other at Skaw on the east coast. This latter is the older, being built in 1941, and was part of the Chain Home
Chain Home
Chain Home was the codename for the ring of coastal Early Warning radar stations built by the British before and during the Second World War. The system otherwise known as AMES Type 1 consisted of radar fixed on top of a radio tower mast, called a 'station' to provide long-range detection of...

 radar network as part of the defences of the Sullom Voe flying boat base. Skaw
Skaw is a tiny settlement on the Shetland island of Unst. It is located north of Haroldswick on a peninsula in the northeast corner of the island, and is the most northerly settlement in the United Kingdom...

 closed in 1947. Ten years later, 91 Signal Unit was formed, and became fully operational on 5 October 1957.

The present station was officially opened on 27 September 1957 as No 91 Signals Unit, and in 1960 was visited by Queen Elizabeth II. In the early days, the site was shared with the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 which worked in the Admiralty building. In the following years, RAF Saxa Vord was a vital part of Britain's air defence during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. During this period, there was a game of cat-and-mouse, originally with English Electric Lightning
English Electric Lightning
The English Electric Lightning is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft of the Cold War era, noted for its great speed and unpainted natural metal exterior finish. It is the only all-British Mach 2 fighter aircraft. The aircraft was renowned for its capabilities as an interceptor; Royal Air Force ...

, then F-4 Phantom and finally Tornado F3. RAF Saxa Vord consisted of three sites: the domestic site, the technical site and the married quarters called Setters Hill Estate (SHE).

The technical site was originally home to a Type 80 search radar, a Type 14 standby reporting radar and a Type 13 height finder. The Type 80 was unfortunately lost when it was blown out of the radome and down the cliffside. In 1979, there was a 649 search radar (Type 96) and Height Finder 200, and these were planned to be replaced by the Type 93 in the mid 90s as part of the new IUKADGE system.
When The type 93 became obsolete a radical new method was tried.
RAF Saxa Vord was a part of the Sector 1 of the UK Air Defence Region (the RAF covering most of NATO Early Warning Area 12, some 750,000 square miles). Sector 1 was the airspace north of the 55th parallel north
55th parallel north
The 55th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 55 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean....

. Being a Control and Reporting Post(CRP)/ Reporting Post (RP), it passed its radar picture and information (along with RAF Benbecula) to the Sector Operations Centre (SOC /CRC) RAF Buchan
RAF Buchan
RAF Buchan is a Royal Air Force station near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire. It has been there since 1952, although the domestic site in Boddam is now closed. Until 2005 it was also home of one of the two Control and Reporting Centres for the United Kingdom in the form of an impressive two story...

, which also received information from the Danish site on the Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are an island group situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, along with Denmark proper and Greenland...

. It was also home to Shetland Radar, which provided a radar service to civilian helicopters transiting from Aberdeen/Sumburgh and Unst out to the oil fields.

From around 2000 until 2 April 2004, the station operated as RRH Saxa Vord, an unmanned Remote Radar Head operated from a parent station (RAF Buchan
RAF Buchan
RAF Buchan is a Royal Air Force station near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire. It has been there since 1952, although the domestic site in Boddam is now closed. Until 2005 it was also home of one of the two Control and Reporting Centres for the United Kingdom in the form of an impressive two story...

). On 2 April 2004, RAF Saxa Vord was upgraded from a Remote Radar Head to a full manned station, taking over control of the radar defences in the area. RAF Buchan
RAF Buchan
RAF Buchan is a Royal Air Force station near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire. It has been there since 1952, although the domestic site in Boddam is now closed. Until 2005 it was also home of one of the two Control and Reporting Centres for the United Kingdom in the form of an impressive two story...

 will be downgraded to a Remote Radar Head. RAF Saxa Vord closed in April 2006.

RAF Saxa Vord was further north than Leningrad
Leningrad is the former name of Saint Petersburg, Russia.Leningrad may also refer to:- Places :* Leningrad Oblast, a federal subject of Russia, around Saint Petersburg* Leningrad, Tajikistan, capital of Muminobod district in Khatlon Province...

, and on the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage is a unified home rule municipality in the southcentral part of the U.S. state of Alaska. It is the northernmost major city in the United States...

. The station was named after Saxa Vord, which is the highest hill on Unst at 935 ft (285 m). It holds the unofficial British record for wind speed
Wind speed
Wind speed, or wind velocity, is a fundamental atmospheric rate.Wind speed affects weather forecasting, aircraft and maritime operations, construction projects, growth and metabolism rate of many plant species, and countless other implications....

, which in 1962 was recorded at 177 mph (284.9 km/h) — just before the measuring equipment blew away.


After much preliminary work over the previous 12 months, April 2007 saw the purchase of RAF Saxa Vord's Domestic Site, plus the road up to the Mid Site, by Military Asset Management (MAM), a company owned by Highland entrepreneur, Frank Strang. Recognising that military bases tend to be situated in remote rural areas, and that their closure (as a result of the "Cold War peace dividend") can have devastating economic and social consequences for local communities, MAM was established as a private sector business to transform closing bases into self-sustaining, profitable enterprises, encouraging and fostering economic regeneration in the process.

Saxa Vord is being redeveloped into a new tourism venture: Britain's first "residential natural and cultural heritage activity centre", all based on the fascinating and spectacular island of Unst. The concept is simple: to attract like-minded people from all over the world to stay at Saxa Vord, where they will enjoy unique insights into some of the North Atlantic's most iconic natural and cultural heritage.

The first phase is complete, and Saxa Vord currently (2007) offers 20 self-catering holiday houses and a 16-bedroom bunkhouse, together with a restaurant and bar. 2008 will see the launch of a new hotel, leisure facilities and a guided walks/evening talks programme. Local people are being employed whenever possible, and there is direct local involvement in the business. For example, Sonny Priest, owner of Unst's famous Valhalla Brewery
Valhalla Brewery
The Valhalla Brewery in Baltasound, Unst, Shetland, Scotland, is the northernmost brewery in the British Isles. It was opened by the husband and wife team Sonny and Silvia Priest, in December 1997....

, manages and supplies the bar at Saxa Vord, and is about to relocate his brewery to the site.

External links

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