Beatrice to Berriedale

In one of my earlier blog pieces I wrote about the offshore wind farm being built south of Wick. At the time of writing the first turbine had been installed and immediately connected to the grid thereby paying for itself from the very first turn of the blades, transmitting energy throughout the country. The same weekend, the first “Dounreay” flight departed with its load of uranium and nuclear waste bound for the USA and flew over the windmill; an emotive vista of the departure of outdated technology whilst the new clean renewable energy sprung up around it. To me it also contrasted the backward looking Westminster who still support nuclear with the forward looking Scottish Government who don’t.

Over the following months I watched as the turbines spread along the horizon. Activity 24 hours a day meant there was always something to see and as the site grew, the dark nights provided another surprise; as each windmill has a light on it, I now look out on to what appears to be the twinkling streetlights of a new town and this has become incredibly reassuring.

The last turbine was finished last week and I admit to feeling a bit sad that the boats and cranes that have been part of my life everyday will no longer be there. Ahead of schedule and under budget, the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm is an incredible achievement. It was also a huge surprise for me to realise that these months of work actually equalled 2 years as it did not feel that long. 84 turbines now stand proud on the horizon, each one taller than the London Eye and I cannot imagine them not being there now. It is the largest wind farm in the world to have used the type of foundations that it did and it also holds the world record of having these sited the deepest. With each foundation weighing over 1000 tonnes and placed in waters of over 50 metres deep, the £2.5 billion project realised incredible feats of engineering and technology and now powers almost half a million homes across the country.

Quite apart from the investment into the wind farm itself, £20 million was invested into sympathetically restoring the 200 year old derelict buildings at the harbour designed by Tomas Telford. Bringing them back to their original magnificent detail, these maritime buildings of Pulteneytown now hold offices, storage and a car park and look truly stunning. Many of the components used in the construction of the Windfarm were produced in Scotland from Machrahanish, Lewis, Fife, Rosyth and Nigg. Several of these companies are also enjoying revitalised futures thanks to investment and support from the Scottish Government.

As this project comes to a close another development that was supported heavily by the Scottish Government begins. After decades, the Berriedale Braes will finally see the removal of the infamous hairpin bend. Whilst not going as far as what was offered many years ago and falling far short of what was assumed would be coming, if the realignment of the bend stops the road from being closed quite as often as currently happens due to stuck or jackknifed lorries, then it is to be welcomed. Dogged by controversy, hold ups and a Public Enquiry, the original idea of a flyover or bridge has long since been withdrawn and in all honesty, the new proposal does leave you feeling underwhelmed. The incredible gradients which make this such a stunning if not perilous journey will remain however with the most dangerous aspect removed. As we drove home at the weekend, it was a delight to see the works access road being completed and I look forward to seeing the changes to come. There have been many improvements made to the A9 north over the years and parts of the road are on par with what you might expect from the central belt. The new £10 million road will replace the current hairpin bend to the front of the old cemetery with a sweeping bend that will run behind it and will hopefully be completed within a year. In the distance, Beatrice will be visible and as you continue northwards, the full splendour of the Windfarm will become apparent.

Further local investment to come will be the new Health Care Hubs for Wick and Thurso and the refurbishment of Caithness General Hospital which have been given approval by Holyrood. A very emotive subject locally, this has caused some divide in the community with some wanting to retain the status quo as they did not trust the authorities. With this work potentially due to start in 2022, I am sure the next few years will prove equally as oppositional as the previous few have been but the end result will be worth it. Now, if only we could get something done about traffic and road conditions around the rest of the NC500!