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Lost beaches of Caithness to be commemorated in sculpture trail

14 March 2012

Sutherland-based artist Gavin Lockhart has been commissioned to undertake the next stage of public art at John O'Groats, with a series of works celebrating the dramatic and changing coastline of Caithness.

Following a public meeting last year on the future artistic shape of John O'Groats, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) sought professional artists to transform the coast around the village.

Titled "Path", Gavin's concept is to create permanent artworks along the coastal paths at John O'Groats. These will be designed to create a reminder of the beaches that used to dominate the coast - before much of the sand was removed for the war effort during World War Two. Sand from the once-famous 2.5 mile long beach was used as a soil improver on fields due to its high shell content as part of the "Dig for Victory" campaign.

The artist, who created the popular sail project at the John O'Groats Transform weekend last year, plans to develop a trail of six Caithness stones leading people along the path to view the outstanding coastline across the Pentland Firth to Orkney. Each stone will be carved with images taken from photographs of similar beaches to those originally at John O'Groats and placed to allow use as seating and rest areas.

The work should be in place by summer 2012.

Gavin commented: "It's a shock to realise that this rugged, rocky shore was in living memory a beautiful white sandy beach and deserves us to look upon this landscape with a little more consideration of its historical sacrifice."

Nick Scroggie from HIE, said: "When commissioning this work we were looking for something inspiring which strongly reflected the unique nature of Caithness while also having a practical use. Engaging both local people and visitors in the rich natural environment is a key part in transforming John O'Groats into an international destination. Gavin's artwork will hopefully inspire people to explore the unique landscape of John O'Groats and beyond.

"John O'Groats is on a major international cycle route and has wildlife and scenery as inspiring as anything found across the world. The Path project aims to encourage visitors and walkers to stay longer and take some time to explore the area."

HIE has spearheaded the transformation at John O'Groats, working with visitors, businesses and the community to develop the masterplan. The agency is also investing £1.8 million towards a £6 million luxury accommodation project, in a private and public sector collaboration between Natural Retreats, Heritage Great Britain and HIE.

The 'Path' project has a budget of £15,000 - which is to include the materials, creation and installation of the work.

The beach stones are to be sourced from the beautiful Caithness flagstones from a local quarry with local craftsmen and the stone carving undertaken by Sutherland Stonework of Golspie. Talks are underway as to the final locations of each of the stones.

HIE is investing £50,000, which has been matched with £58,500 of European LEADER funding, to deliver a range of projects to ensure that creative involvement is an integral part of the transformation of John O'Groats.

Further details on the transformation of John O'Groats are available in our John O'Groats section or follow us on Facebook

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Angela Lewis 03/04/2012

I am fascinated by the reference to beaches being removed during the war as a "dig for victory". I played on the white beaches post war - it was my understanding that the council removed them to use for building thinking that the shell would quickly be replaced. It's a tale of things going horribly wrong - I think you are brave to celebrate their loss - there will be some senior folk who think the HIE has poor taste.

Ann Heymans 29/05/2013

Last week (May 20th - 27th 2013) we were on holiday in Caithness and we visited John o Groats. I had heard about Gavin Lockhart's Caithness flagstone sculptures and was dismayed to find his art work just dumped in the corner of a field. We were able to view the stones and take the attached photo but felt very saddened that the sculptures hadn't been incorporated into the path he and the Enterprise Board had envisaged. I have since read on your website that the "path" project cost £15,000 and should have been completed by the summer of 2012. What happened? Can you assure me that it will be put in place soon?

Highlands and Islands Enterprise 05/06/2013

Hello Ann. We are delighted that you were keen to see Gavin's work, and thanks for getting in touch about it. As a result of the building work which is going on around the site, and to make sure that the stones are not damaged, we haven't yet been able to place them in their final spots. We are conscious that this hasn't happened in the timescale we had envisaged. However, as soon as the building work is complete, the stones will be placed in their rightful home.

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