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Looking Back – news from the John O'Groat Journal of yesteryear


By Features Reporter

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An engine pulling into Lybster railway station, possibly in the 1930s. The Wick and Lybster Light Railway opened in 1903 and closed in 1944. Stops included Thrumster, Ulbster, Mid Clyth, Roster and Occumster.
An engine pulling into Lybster railway station, possibly in the 1930s. The Wick and Lybster Light Railway opened in 1903 and closed in 1944. Stops included Thrumster, Ulbster, Mid Clyth, Roster and Occumster.

New Year blizzard

From the Groat of January 6, 1922

A heavy snowstorm across the north of Scotland ushered in the new year, resulting in travel disruption in Caithness.

At the beginning of the week there had been heavy drifting and at times the storm had reached the "violence of a blizzard".

By Wednesday, most of the county roads had been rendered impassable by huge snow drifts and "mail cars and other vehicular traffic was held up".

Schools were closed as it was impossible for the pupils to reach them and the railway was blocked twice, which prevented the train from running on two days.

However, it wasn't all bad news as in Wick the procession held on behalf of the Wick and Ackergill branch of the RNLI went ahead despite the stormy weather.

There was a "fair turnout of processionists and the general public" and the event was enjoyed even though the streets were "heavy with snow".

"A large number of energetic collectors mustered in Argyle Square and followed the procession along its route. The artistic collecting boxes representing the lifeboat was a frequent sight in the streets during the day, and the various comic dresses worn by some of the collectors added to the brightness of the event."

Tourist plan for Camster

From the Groat of January 7, 1972

Caithness County Planning Committee granted permission in principle for a private tourist development at Camster.

Ideal Citrus Sales (Europe) Ltd, London, had already purchased 1600 acres of land for the scheme which proposed 1500 houses and a dome accommodating various services, including a cinema, bar and a club.

In the first phase 500 acres would be developed, with costs for drainage expected to come in at a quarter of a million pounds. Other costs would also be "considerable", the councillors heard.

An assurance was given that the residential units would be in keeping with the character of the district and its traditional croft houses.

Mr A B Henderson, Wick, described the project as very ambitious, adding that it was "just what we have been wanting – whether it gets off the ground or not time will tell".

Meanwhile, Wick High School was to have an electric organ for the "leading of morning praise", as well as for instruction.

Caithness Education Committee unanimously agreed to pay £600 towards the costs of the instrument with the remaining £300 coming from a trust account.

Members heard that the existing piano in the school hall was no longer fit for purpose and had to be replaced, either with a grand piano or an electric organ. A suggestion that a barrel organ be bought instead was not carried forward.

Leukaemia study concern

From the Groat of January 10, 1997

A report published in the British Medical Journal raised fresh concern about the safety of beaches near nuclear reprocessing plants.

Researchers in France said there was "some convincing evidence" of a link between leukaemia in children and their exposure to radiation on beaches near the La Hague reprocessing works in Normandy.

It was one of three industrial-scale reprocessing plants in the world; the others were at Sellafield and Dounreay where previous researchers found a "weak statistical link" between local beaches and childhood leukaemia in 1991.

Dounreay's operators insisted there was no cause for concern about the safety of beaches in Caithness, but former worker Bob Wheatcroft, who lost a 14-year-old daughter to the condition, called for a full inquiry.

He said that Dounreay could not "wash its hands of these findings" and that there were still children contracting leukaemia. "It does no good when the authority says this has nothing to do with them."

Radiation biologist Dr Tom Wheldon, who chaired a Dounreay beaches working group, said the new study added weight to the 1991 link but he urged caution, saying that he could not see "evidence in the report for a causal link".


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