Wartime trail will show key role of Sinclair’s Bay in guarding against Nazi invasion
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A World War II heritage trail is to be created around Sinclair’s Bay to highlight the importance of the area in guarding against a potential Nazi invasion.
Details of the project were announced this week by Sinclair’s Bay Trust, which says the Caithness at War trail will initially focus on 16 sites or events.
It is being launched in collaboration with Wick Development Trust, which plans to continue the trail into Wick. It is hoped that other trusts or organisations will eventually get involved to help extend the trail across the remainder of the county.
Caithness played a key role in Britain's defences amid fears of a possible invasion from across the North Sea following the German occupation of Norway from 1940.
Alistair Jack, Caithness Voluntary Group's development trust support officer, says the trail has been designed to inform both local people and visitors about how important Caithness was during the conflict.
“The initial aim was to protect and showcase the remaining World War II structures around Sinclair’s Bay," Mr Jack said. "However, it has grown into something much larger and more impressive.
“It is so important that people understand the sacrifices made by the people of Caithness, and that we never forget what happened in our county during those turbulent years in our recent history.”
The first two phases of the project will see the creation of the trail stretching from Keiss to Noss Head, with detailed information provided at each site on display panels.
In addition, an app is being developed that will generate an augmented reality (AR) experience at eight of the sites. It will be available as a free download.
"Augmented reality is an exciting and emerging technology that merges the real world with the virtual world, and our app will allow users to interact with computer-generated 3D experiences on their smartphone or tablet," Mr Jack explained. "This will truly bring history to life."
As well as the app, the information panels will have QR codes linking to a new Caithness at War website that will allow trail users to access extra information, as well as wartime videos and photographs.
Maysie Calder, chairperson of Sinclair’s Bay Trust, said: “We are very excited to bring this project forward and showcase our wartime past. This will bring multiple benefits to both locals and visitors to the area, and is an attraction that will contribute towards a much-needed economic growth within the county.
“Using emerging AR technology that brings history to life will allow the trust to deliver an exciting learning experience to all age demographics. We hope to further develop the app to capture all aspects of our rich heritage, which will be used on future historical trails around Sinclair’s Bay.
“We are delighted to be working in close collaboration with Wick Development Trust to establish these first two Caithness at War trails. We hope it will be the start of something that will eventually expand across the county, creating what has the potential to be an amazing educational experience."
The first two phases of the project have been funded by the Caithness Beatrice Community Fund. Discussions are taking place with landowners and the planning department regarding the information panels, with a view to having the trail established by May 2022.
Mr Jack explained that Sinclair’s Bay was seen as offering "almost perfect conditions" for an enemy invasion.
“A possible invasion of Caithness by Nazi forces based in occupied Norway was of real concern due to our proximity to Scapa Flow, and the fact that Caithness was only connected to the south by a single road and rail line – making any type of response by the British forces very difficult," he said.
"Sinclair’s Bay was seen as the most likely location for any enemy invasion due to the almost perfect invasion conditions created by the long, firm, sandy beach which was ideal for landing craft and gliders, an uninterrupted flat hinterland behind the beach with a road network which would have been ideal to speed up the dispersal of troops and vehicles, and easy access to the nearby harbour at Wick and airfields at Wick and Skitten.
"Had the Germans managed to create a bridgehead in Caithness, it would have been disastrous for Britain and could have cost us the war. Had they managed to create a base here they would have been able to restrict the movements of the Royal Navy from Scapa Flow, and had better access to the North Atlantic to attack convoys coming from America, by basing U-boats at Wick.
"Additionally, German bombers based in Caithness would have been able to mount air raids on the south of Scotland and north of England with ease, basically catching Britain in a pincer movement when combined with air raids from occupied France.”