The Plan to Bomb The Stacks

Duncansby Stacks

Duncansby Head is the most northeasterly part of the Scottish and British mainlands, slightly northeast of John o’ Groats.

It lies approximately 20 km (12 mi) east-southeast of Dunnet Head, the northernmost point of the Scottish and British mainlands.

It is here Duncansby Stacks lie as they majestically appear from the Sea.

They are known as Sea Stacks, which are large stacks of rock in the sea that looks like a tall stone tower, separated from the main shoreline.

They can occur wherever there is a water body and a cliff.

Coastal erosion or the slow wearing of rock by water and wind over very long periods causes a stack to form. All sea stacks start out as part of nearby rock formations.

Then, millennia of wind and waves hit the rock and break it down.

The force of the two creates cracks in the stone, and, little by little, cracks become chips, which fall off the primary rock.

When enough chips fall off, holes are created that extend from one rock outcrop side to the other.

Eventually, the wind and water breakthrough to the other side, creating a cave or arch.Sea

Over many more generations, this arch also falls away, separating one part of the rock from the original cliff. This is your sea stack.

Over time, this too gets broken down, causing the stack to collapse, leaving what’s known as a sea stump.

Of course, any accumulation could become a stump as the water breaks down its base, so stacks should be treated with caution by climbers.

And Duncasby Stack is one of the Most Famous in the UK, with many Visitors capturing these Stacks as they walk the clifftops.

But back in the 1950’s experts wanted to blast the stacks with a nuclear bomb.

Incredibly, the iconic landmarks were only saved because scientists decreed the area was “too wet” to set off the explosion.

In rural Berkshire, boffins dreamt up the nightmare bomb scenario at Aldermaston, the secretive headquarters of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme.

Local community councillor Bill Mowat said the fact the test was even mooted by scientists is terrifying.

He said: “I know there were concerns that Wick might have been in the firing line from the fallout.

“It seemed incredible then, and unbelievable Aldermaston could even think about this worst-case scenario.”

Back in 1953, as Britain desperately tried to keep up with America and Russia in the nuclear arms race, experts at Aldermaston wanted to test a prototype atomic bomb at the landmark spot.

Looking at a map of the British Isles, Caithness was an ideal location for such an experiment to be carried out, especially with its low population and rural setting.

Gruinard Island in the Inner Hebrides had already been used as a testing ground for the lethal anthrax bacterium in 1942.

It had been left uninhabitable by biological warfare testing carried out by scientists from Porton Down.

So blowing up a picturesque stretch of Scottish coastline would not have seemed beyond the realms of possibility to academics locked in a cold war race for nuclear knowledge.

The low population was another reason for building the Dounreay Nuclear Power Station, which was built between 1955 and 1958.

Thankfully someone saw sense, and the project was dropped.

So, if you plan a visit and take a photo, count yourself lucky they are still here to be enjoyed by us all.

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