Best Essay 2001
Caithness Heritage

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David Nicol won first prize in the Essay competition at the Caithness Heritage Fair
His prize was given to him at the Caithness Heritage Fair

John O’Groat Journal
A Grandfather’s Tale - 22 April 2050

A few days ago my 12 year old grandson said to me “Grandad, nothing ever happens up here.” It made me think - what has actually happened here, in our small, northerly county of the British Isles over the past fifty years. I though that this would make article for the paper this week. It might take a few of us down memory lane!

I think a good place to start would be in the year 2000 - the millennium. On January the first 2000 at approximately 12:01 spectacular shows of fireworks lit the sky - streaks of light dancing with the stars. Wick welcomed in the New Year and the 21st Century. I still remember that night today. One of the biggest parties Wick has ever seen, only outdone by the celebrations at the end of World War 3.

In 2001 the bosses at Dounreay announced that the plant was to be decommissioned. Work started almost immediately. The decommissioning is now nearly complete. All that remains now is the old reactor, a reminiscence of what the plant used to be. The decommissioning itself generated 1000 jobs. By 2008 Thurso in particular was booming. The population had risen to 15,000. The town was barely recognisable.  Caithness was doing well, industrially and economically.

Then in 2015 disaster struck after months of tense negotiations with Iraq, war seemed inevitable. Iraq now controlled Turkey and nearer to home Sweden. A RAF base was built in a forest clearing north of Watten.  This was Britain’s prime defense against Sweden.  On 12th November 2015 at 1.15 the Prime Minister William Hague dramatically announced that Britain had declared war on Iraq. World War 3 had begun.  Everyone was issued with gas masks.  It was a very scary time with Sweden just across the North Sea.  As we feared Wick and Watten were the first two places bombed.  Saddam’s dying wish was that the air base was to be destroyed.  The Iraqi warplanes failed their mission and the base stood triumphant.  There were no fatalities in Watten but Wick was not so lucky - 40 were killed and over a hundred injured. During the bombing raids in London Queen Elizabeth the second was killed. King Charles was crowned in 2017. The war finished in 2019.  The war was won mainly by dogfights in the air. RAF’s Watten base made a great contribution to the war effort. King Charles came to congratulate them on January the 20th 2020.  While he was there he was assassinated by a Swedish sniper.  It was a devastating blow to Britain.  This also hurt France and America as he was a key figure and helped us win the war. Caithness was once again in the news.

The second King in only three years was crowned, King William. The R.A.F. base at Watten was kept inactive until the government decided that the Swedish air threat had been “neutralised”.  In 2030 the base was reduced to two Search and Rescue helicopters.  The end looked inevitable - not only for the base but also for the Caithness economy and industry. For the previous fifteen years the base had provided jobs for 200 people.  The base was closed in 2035 and as a direct result Wick’s population fell back to 9000.  The last time the population had been this low was in the late twentieth century.

In 2040 there was a country wide epidemic of a virulent form of foot and mouth - a disease that was thought to have been eradicated in 2001. It was a devastating blow to Caithness agriculture and also had a knock on effect on the Caithness economy. Tourism was badly affected as in the 2001 outbreak.

In 2045 one of the biggest advances in technology Caithness has ever seen took place. The Light Service was introduced. This was a mode of transport like a train but dynamically faster. This took people from Wick to Edinburgh in forty-five minutes and wick to London in two ours. Wick was more accessible immediately. People could now take day trips to London! I told my grandson that when I went to London 50 years ago it took 12 hours to get there travelling by car and train. We are not yet flying to Mars for holidays as predicted earlier in the twentieth centuries.

As you can see, although we do not think about it much, a lot has happened to the small county of Caithness in the last 50 years. I recall thinking much the same as my grandson when I was 12 as I think we all do at that age.

David Nicol
Wick High School
Mrs Bamfield