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Friends Of The Trinkie And the North Baths Index



Friends Of The Trinkie And The North Baths

THE NORTH BATHS - The sequel
Harry Gray

In the late summer of 2003, a letter appeared in the John O’ Groat Journal from Ian Sutherland stating his intention to see the North Baths restored, and appealing for all interested to meet at the Baths at 10.30a.m. on Saturday 23rd. August. At this first meeting some twelve folk turned up to show their support, and another meeting was arranged for the following Wednesday in the Nethercliffe Hotel. This was held jointly with the “Friends of the Trinkie”,who not only whole heartedly agreed to help but who made their existing funds available to kick start the project. A fund raising event was arranged for September, in the form of an evening B.B.Q. and stalls, this went down very well and the coffers swelled to £1800 as a result of the evening and donations from well wishers .

Over the winter months meetings were held on the first Wednesday of every month in the Nethercliffe, to keep the group together, and to discuss the project.

One of the most important tasks was to be the rebuilding of the broken down sea wall and this occupied much of our attention, being a big job. Gunns’ of Lybster then promised enough concrete to do the job, and M.M.Miller of Wick offered a digger to clear all the lose rubble caused by years of neglect.Nothing could really be done because of the inclement weather and spring seemed a long way off.

On Tuesday 27th. April 2004, a weather window, combining with a low tide gave access to the digger, and the base of the pool was cleared and deepened, this level had not been seen since the 1950s. The work had finally begun!!

At the meeting on Wed.5th.May methods of rebuilding the sea wall were discussed, Colin Richard thought that we might be able to borrow shuttering from Messrs. Currie of Orkney who are presently carrying out remedial work on the north river pier. In the meantime Scottish Water, who have been creating a new water treatment plant at the north head, have donated a new gate valve for the sea wall. It was agreed that we proceed to fix this in place, and also begin installing reinforcing rods which had been acquired. Ian will order sand and cement and we will begin work at the first weather window. Funds now stand at £2146.00.

Wed. 12th. May. A start was made on drilling the holes for the steel rods which will reinforce the sea wall. The following day at10a.m. Ian Sutherland ,Les Crowe, Bill Calder and Harry Gray, began work, rebuilding the holes which the seas had torn in the north wall. One hole was six feet high , five feet wide and around seven feet deep, a regular cave! Considering our accumulative age of around 270 years, quite a lot was achieved. What a caper this turned out to be, and we had a steep learning curve in dry stone walling. Ian MacKenzie manufactured a wooden stretcher, and this enabled us to roll the larger stones on, and made it a lot easier to lift them into place. This work carried on at every opportunity until the end of that month.

During the week commencing 31st. May, with the addition of Colin Richard the rest of the rodding was put in and wired up, and the valve was put in place, and bedded in concrete.

M.M.Miller came to our rescue and very generously put the heavy weight shuttering in place in the sea wall gap. This was completed on the Wednesday morning, and Gunns poured the first batch of concrete. Millers had enlisted Budge Formworks and they carried out the work as Gunns poured. In the afternoon , conditions deteriorated and work went on with a rising sea and rain. Colin and Les worked alongside Budges’ men braving rising wind, bursting swells and driving rain trying to secure a protective cover on the top of the wall against the encroaching sea. The digger then set to work and cleared the remaining rubble from the shallow end, ready for us to rebuild the steps.  By 5.30p.m. the sea had moderated and our fingers were crossed that all would be well overnight.

The following day the shuttering was removed to reveal a new wall, as solid as a rock.
How wonderful it was to see the pool area at last enclosed, and it was a huge step forward. We took a breather for that day, and met on the afternoon of Friday 11th.June to inspect the huge cavity in the wall to the landward side. We hope to begin work on this on Monday 14th. June. We will use steel rods and a concrete/rubble mix, as and when tides permit.

We gathered at 2p.m. on the Monday in a westerly gale, tides not really suitable for a little while, so we decided to make a start on the shallow end, clearing all the loose stones and rubbish, and lay our plans for the steps. Rather than build the steps in concrete, or with blocks, we decided to rebuild them in stone to match the original historic harbour quay. The only difficulty was that most of the stone needed, lay some distance away and in considerable chunks. However Ian had a word with Gerry Hendersons who immediately offered a digger to carry the boulders over to the area, and this was arranged for the following morning. Our skins are tanned with the combination of sun and wind, or is it more likely to be saltwater rust!! The rest of the day we spent cleaning the area, years of black smelly sludge lay under the layer of shingle.

Wednesday 18th. June, Heavy rain all day long, but in spite of this Hendersons arrived with a small digger, and moved a pile of suitable stone over to the steps area. Much too wet to do any work. The following morning was dry, and work commenced on the base platform of the steps, wrestling boulders into position, and back filling with smaller rubble. We were grateful, more than once, for Colins power on the bigger boulders.  By late afternoon the first platform was complete, with concreting planned for tomorrow. We also decided to ask Gow Lochshell for a quote for a set of railings to divide the shallow area from the deep end. We need more stone.

No sooner said than done . Ian arrived on a cold and wet Saturday morning , with a fork lift from Sutherlands Wood mills, and a heap of stone was moved over to the steps.  New volunteer, 15 year old Tom Richard joined the team. After much heaving and manoeuvring we managed to get the second layer of steps in position, then in the afternoon , backfilling and cementing, we now have a firm base to build on.

Over Monday and Tuesday 21st./22nd. June, cementing the second step was completed, and repairs carried out on sections of the walls on the seaward side of the shallow end. The whole area was then scraped clean of years of weed and debris. This was quite a hard two days. The following morning we met at 10am.in a very stiff S.E.breeze, while Ian, Colin & Les put in the third step and cemented all, Bill & I built up the last two breeches in the old harbour wall. We ran out of stone again, but in the afternoon our saviour, Millers, came over with a digger to fetch what we hope will be the last load of stone. Among the stone we found a piece of broken gravestone inscribed D. Anderson, we have no way of knowing who he or she was, or where the piece came from, but we will build it into the steps, and at least it will not lie forgotten on the sea shore. The sea became quite heavy and quickly filled the pool even though the valve was closed. The weather deteriorated and Thursday was a write off, strong wind and heavy rain.

The fifth level of steps was built on Friday 25th. June, we prepared shuttering for the undercut west wall, (a cavity some ten feet in length, five and a half feet high and varies in depth from eighteen inches to about three feet ) drilled holes to receive the steel and MacKays’Precast arrived and gave us a ton of sand. The wind increased, and shifted to the S.East,. causing a heavy chop which ruled out work on the west wall on the Saturday, so the gang set to work and built the next layer of steps, this included D.Andersons’ stone.

The penultimate step was built today ( Mon.28th.) and the sea wall at the shallow end rebuilt and pointed. Colins’ cement mixer is doing a sterling job, non stop mixing, a wheel barrow of cement is quite a weight getting it down the steps and across the pool.

Quite a few people come along for a look, to see what is going on, most seem to approve. Lochshell have quoted £930 + £100 for fitting the railings and promised delivery next week. At low tide we closed the valve to everything dry out. The next morning Colin and Bill completed the last step, and it looks really good, now it has to be pointed. Today we filled in behind the short wall, shallow end, and carried concrete blocks halfway along the sea wall to repair the damage there. Some youngsters have scratched their initials in our cement work yesterday, there was a cry of vandals, until it was pointed out that cement in the shallow end bore the inscription H.Gray 1956 !! South East wind picking up and a rising swell, we cannot seem to be able to get at the west wall cavity, although Bill did manage to get some steel in yesterday.

The last day of June, stiff east wind, loppy seas and high tides restricted work. Donald Gow of Lochshell is due to come tomorrow to fit the new bars, we spent some time sweeping and generally tidying up. Donald Gow appeared and fitted a handrail to the steps, he fabricated a new key for the valve, and removed all the old projecting bolts from the concrete at the deep end, all at no charge. Monsoon conditions drove us away by 4.15pm. The next morning, Thurs. July 1st. D.Gow arrived to fit the new bars, unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding, the bars were a bit short, so they left to fabricate a new section. At this point the baths were empty and the valve closed, but the tide was very high with a swell and the sea poured over a yet unrepaired gap and, within an hour, the pool was brimming, so nothing could be done until the fall of the tide. That afternoon, we got the shuttering in place on the west wall cavity and began mixing and pouring the first of the concrete. Two girls then joined the group, Janice and Bobby Chisholm, boy can they work, and carried on until 6pm.

Friday 2nd. July. The Rev Stevie Thompson joined in today and began pointing the steps area. The rest of the squad began mixing and pouring concrete by wheel barrow, adding boulders as we went, a calm hot sunny day. Big squad today, just for the record, Ian Sutherland, Colin Richard, Bill Calder, Les Crowe, Harry Gray, Bobby and Janice Chisholm, Tom Richard and two youngsters who helped with the pointing, and whose names I failed to record. Quite a number of people visited and were very encouraging. Also the girls brought along a donation of £70 as a result of a collection in the First Stop Shop, and they arranged hot and cold drinks and eats for all. Very much appreciated by all. The job was finally finished at 1pm. on Monday 5th. from a 9am.start, a steady stream of wheel barrows of cement and loads of stone. A further donation of £100 from George MacKay, Butcher. An inspection at 5pm. on a falling tide and it looks as if the wall will be O.K. Our wheelbarrow ramp and some of our wood had been thrown into the baths, there are always idiots around!!When we removed the shuttering on the Tuesday morning we found the wall to be well-nigh perfect. Nineteen shuttering holes in the valve wall were filled in and our next job will be to rebuild the low wall on the seaward side. We are getting there.

Wednesday 7th. July, a 9am. start, and we cut and formed the shuttering for the low sea wall, and began mixing and laying the concrete. The valve was closed at low tide to keep everything dry. The bars and handrail were primed, and then the girls arrived and the whitewashing got underway. We also cemented a few bad cracks and holes in the base of the shallow end. No fewer than thirteen bairns and six adults were enjoying the sunshine and swimming in the sea by the pool, wonderful to see, and a sign that this area can live again. Tonight we met in the Nethercliffe to plan our next moves, and make arrangements for the open day which is to be held on Saturday 24th July at 2pm.

The shuttering on the wall was removed on Thurs. morning and all seems to be well. A second coat was applied to the handrail and bars. Paint courtesy of MacCaugheys’, and some more whitewash was applied to the steps area. I should mention that Les’eleven year old grandson Michael is home on holiday and has joined the ranks. M.M.Miller delivered around twenty loads of topsoil which will form a picnic area to the east of the baths.

Friday morning and Millers’ delivered even more soil, we will be able to fill in either side of the old changing room base as well as the picnic area, our benefactors have also offered a digger to level off the whole area. We are overwhelmed by the kindness and support.

Sat 10th./Sun11th. July. Janice, Bobby and friends spent all day Saturday whitewashing and then turned out, unknown to the rest of us , on the Sunday, and worked from 11am. to 5pm. between them they have painted the entire pool. The word is spreading and people flock to have a look. Bill Fernie has given us space on Caithness.org so we’ve gone international, and have received a number of e.mails.

The surface of the diving board area has suffered over the years, so, on the Monday this section was shuttered and the first coat of cement applied. A bit more whitewashing was done, and some boulders cleared from odd corners. Hugh Simpson delivered two huge lorry loads of sand which we will spread over the base of the pool.

Tues. 13th. July The bars and handrail being painted white did not show up against the white of the walls, so, a decision was made to repaint them orange, a better safety colour. Ian went off to buy the paint and returned with a large tin of orange gloss, compliments of McAllans Painters Bridge St. Today the shallow end was given another coat of white, the bars and handrail glossed orange, diving area completed, the top of the old sea wall was given a coat of cement, remainder of some loose boulders cleared, and a start was made on spreading the sand. Nice to see youngsters like Janices’ family and Les’ grandson working alongside the “oldies”. A visitor today was Angus Blackstock, who originally came from Wick, and whose grandfather was Archie MacDonald who coincidentally was the contractor employed on the construction of the North Baths away back in 1904.Most of us lesser mortals stopped work around 5.30pm. but Les and the girls worked on until 9pm. Heroes all!!

Thursday the 15th. was a day of barrowing and spreading sand , a warm sunny day with a strong west wind, leaks were repaired on the east wall and two on the seaward wall by the diving area, and a load of seaweed removed from the valve corner. The following morning a batch of cement was mixed and we repaired the cracks, grooves and step edges on the platform at the deep end. Later we completed the whitewashing of the rocks and sea walls. Monsoon rain in mid afternoon drove us away.

Sat. 17th. M.M.Miller arrived this morning with a digger and spread and flattened the earth over the entire site, not only that, but also donated and sowed seaside grass and the gang raked it all in. The whole site now looks just great, what we need now is a shower of rain to settle the seed, guess what? It stayed dry! Over the weekend the valve was opened and the baths filled. A few swimmers appeared and even Les had a “dip” the brave soul. Bill Fernie of Caithness.org took some photographs and they duly appeared on the web site. The pool looks fresh and pristine. Not much more we can do for now, I cannot believe that the job is finished. On Wednesday evening 21st. July we held a meeting in the Nethercliffe, rather, out in the Hotel garden in warm evening sunshine, and a cold beer. A work party set up for tomorrow to cut down the nettles and grass from the edges of the steps leading down to the pool. Stalls for Saturday will be, cake and candy, tea and scones, lucky dip, and a B.B.Q. The swimming Club will run their own bottle and raffle stall. The baths will be declared open by Mrs Jessie Doull whose late husband Arthur was a stalwart of the baths in the thirties through to the fifties. All we need now is good weather. Over fifty youngsters were counted in the pool today, fantastic! That was the whole object of the exercise.

Saturday 24th. July 2004. The Re-opening of the North Baths.

A very dull and windy start, we met at 9am. in the car park and began setting up the stalls, kindly loaned to us by the Lifeboat. Donations began to pour in and yet again we were taken aback by the generosity of our townsfolk. Everyone was in good spirits, the euphoria of the job completed warmed us against the elements. By lunch time we were all set up and ready to go, and then it began to rain, and boy did it rain, on and on and on, and it looked like a washout.

What we did not reckon with, was the loyal folk of Wick. They came flocking along the road, exiles were in attendance from ” a’ the airts “ everyone under umbrellas of every size and colour and generously supporting the stalls. The tea, scones and baking was run by Joyce, Janice, Bobby and friends full of crack and smiles, while our barbeque was the domain of Patti and her helpers, how she managed to run a b.b.q in such conditions, and still keep up a stream of banter needed to be seen to be believed. Without them we would never have managed. A big thank you to the girls.

After a brief introduction, Mrs. Doull welcomed everybody, and spoke of the pleasure the baths had given generations of “ Weekers “ and of the sterling efforts of the restoration group. She singled out for special mention, the generosity of the business sector of our community, especially the construction and mechanical aid given so freely. In closing Mrs. Doull spoke of how proud and pleased her late husband Arthur, and the late Mr. James Leslie, who had donated the steps, would have been, to see the North Baths restored to its former glory. She then declared the baths open.

First into the pool, slightly “ jumping the gun “ was Mr.William Elder, a Wick exile now living in Invergordon. Although there was a strong south west wind and the rain poured down, the youngsters of Wick Swimming Club gave a grand display of swimming strokes. Next the Sub Aqua gave us a demonstration of their skills and “ discovered” a treasure chest, which, when hauled ashore was found to contain a hoard of sweets, much to the delight of all the children. Following that, the Kayak Club took to the rain lashed water and performed a variety of manoeuvres, culminating in a display of kayak water polo.

At the opening of the baths in 1904 a local remarked that the best way of opening the pool was for the Provost and councillors to take a header into it. Well, in 2004 councillors are made of stern stuff, and we were treated to the sight of our own Highland Regional councillor Bill Fernie plunging into the freezing water and swimming,( very well too ) two lengths of the North Baths.Who said they are getting soft?

The attendance was well over 200 people, given kinder weather conditions who knows how many would have turned out. In spite of the atrocious conditions the hardy local youngsters enjoyed themselves in the water most of the afternoon, and everyone was upbeat and cheerful.

Throughout the summer months the pool was used very well, a diving board donated by Rob Sutherland of the Saw Mills, was secured into place by Colin Richard, and proved to be a very popular addition. On one particular day, sixty three young folk were counted in the pool, what a joy it was to see the area alive and bustling again.

It was a great project, enjoyed by all who took part, and which, without the support of the local community would have taken years.

Well done e’ Weekers!
Harry Gray. Nov.2004