Home   News   Article

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

By Features Reporter

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

Thurso lifeboat helped avert a disaster on the Caithness coast in March 1999 after the chemical tanker Ascania, carrying highly flammable vinyl acetate, caught fire and began drifting towards Dunnet Head.
Thurso lifeboat helped avert a disaster on the Caithness coast in March 1999 after the chemical tanker Ascania, carrying highly flammable vinyl acetate, caught fire and began drifting towards Dunnet Head.

Flu tragedy at Altnabreac

From the Groat of March 21, 1924

The flu epidemic in the north was believed to have been responsible for the death of the stationmaster's wife at Altnabreac.

George Strachan, his wife and three children had all fallen victim to the flu at the same time.

Early on the Wednesday morning, Mr Strachan was awakened by the crying of his two-year-old child and found that his wife was not in the room or in any other part of the house.

"He became alarmed for her safety and on getting assistance from a few of the scattered neighbours a search was begun. This soon led to the tragic discovery of Mrs Strachan's body in the Sleach burn about half a mile from the station house."

It was "presumed she arose and left the house in a state of delirium, the result of the weakening attack of influenza, and wandered along the burn side, accidentally lost her footing and so came by her tragic end".

Meanwhile, the epidemic continued throughout Caithness, with Halkirk, Watten, Bilbster and Lybster "much affected", as were schools in Wick and Thurso where absentee numbers were high.

It was also reported that ploughing work and potato planting throughout the districts had been "seriously impeded owing to large numbers of farm servants developing the trouble".

In other news, a new laundry business, equipped with the latest machinery, had been opened at Louisburgh Street, Wick, by Mr P C McGhan.

Good Food accolade for local hotels

From the Groat of March 22, 1974

Hotels in Caithness and Sutherland had received praise in the latest edition of the Good Food Guide, which was published for the Good Food Club by Consumers' Association.

The Portland Arms in Lybster was mentioned as one of the "top ten tables" along with hotels at Altnacealgach, Forsinard, Inchnadamph, Oykel Bridge, Ben Loyal and Tongue.

Also mentioned was the Gordon Arms at Fochabers which was run by Mr and Mrs Pern, formerly of the Lochdhu Hotel in Caithness.

This "preserved a family tradition in hotel catering" as Mrs Pern was the niece of the Portland Arms proprietor Bert Mowat.

The listings were compiled from information gathered by hotel inspectors who visited anonymously.

Elsewhere, members of the Caithness Hospitals Management Board held their final meeting.

Set up in 1949, the board was to make way for the new Highland Health Board (Northern District).

The chairman, Bailie Alexander Henderson, said that of all the associations he was connected with, the hospitals board had given him the greatest pleasure.

He paid tribute to the professional staff "and all others engaged in hospital services in the county" for their work in bringing the facilities up to their "present high standard".

"The progress that has been made in the last 25 years has been tremendous," he said.

Safety plea after tanker drama

From the Groat of March 26, 1999

Transport minister Glenda Jackson was facing calls for every ship carrying hazardous cargo through the Pentland Firth to be escorted by a tug.

The plea came following the dramatic rescue of the crew from the blazing tanker Ascania as it drifted towards Dunnet Head in stormy seas.

Almost 600 people had to be evacuated from their homes around Scarfskerry as members of the local RNLI fought to avert an environmental catastrophe.

North-east Caithness councillor John Green had written to the minister asking for the government to provide greater protection for residents living along the coasts of the firth.

His letter also paid tribute to the heroic efforts of Thurso lifeboat coxswain Billy Farquhar and his crew and called for the retention of the closure-threatened Pentland Coastguard.

The vessel had been carrying 1800 tonnes of vinyl acetate monomer.

Mr Green said that, as it stood, the only safety precaution in place was that vessels carrying hazardous material had to report to Pentland Coastguard on entering the firth.

Thurso-based police inspector John Grierson praised the way the local people had coped with the drama.

He said that it was "an example of the type of community we have here that so many people who were evacuated had so many places to go, and so many people offered their assistance. It definitely made our job a lot easier."

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More