Experimental Power Stations


In 1954, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric, Board, in collaboration with the Scottish Peat Committee, placed an order with John Brown & Company, Clydebank, for a peat-powered gas turbine engine to generate electricity from peat in Caithness. The experimental peat-burning power station was built at Braehour, Altnabreac.

Pictorial events of 1954 – John O’Groat Journal 7th January 1955

“Altnabreac Peat Scheme.

The first stage of the work at Altnabreac peat utilisation scheme is now in progress. Heavy machinery, specially designed for the purpose, is being unloaded at the site from the railway track at Braehour.”

Pictorial events of 1954 – John O’Groat Journal 7th January 1955

“Atomic Queen

Miss Margaret Gunn, 10 Upper Dounreay, Who (our Reay correspondent writes) was elected as Atomic Queen at a dance held in Reay Drill Hall on Friday evening by Thurso Labour Party. There was a large number of competitors.”

Nucleus, The Nuclear & Caithness Archive:  SUTH  1 /1 / 9

“17th March 1954.

Miss Margaret Gunn Upper Dounreay first Caithness Atomic Queen. Competition held by Thurso Labour Party in Reay Public Hall. 18 entrants. Another competition arranged this time to select Mr Atom and Miss Energy.”

Nucleus, The Nuclear & Caithness Archive: BT 1/16

“Planning and works Com. Meeting 18th Nov 1954.Atomic Energy Station, Dounreay.There was submitted application signed on behalf of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority for planning permission in respect of their factory proposed to be erected at Dounreay, along with plan of the proposed factory and layout, which was inspected by members. The County Clerk pointed out that in accordance with Section 6 (5) of the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, the Atomic Energy Authority is exempted from the Council’s Building Byelaws and that that Authority was submitting their plan of the site as a matter of Courtesy, and the same was unanimously approved.” 

The peat power station at Braehour, Altnabreac, produced electricity for a few years, and fed the national grid. This peat sourced electricity was said to have provided power for the early stages of another experimental energy source, as less than 20 miles to the north, Dounreay Atomic Energy Station was being built.

The top layer of peat is full of moss, roots and heather, and is inferior in quality to peat found at depth.The peat burnt by the power station was from the top layers, and instead of burning rapidly like oil when they blew it into the turbine, ash and fragments of plant fibre stuck to the tubes and burnt far too slowly.

The power station at Braehour,  Altnabreac, closed in 1960. 

The last of 3 reactor were taken offline in 1994, marking the end of nuclear power generation at Dounreay. 



“Meet Lancashire lass, Eileen O’Donnell, a secretary-turned-shepherdess from Bolton, Lancashire. Eileen has just taken part in a sheep-shearing course, a rare feat for a girl. She works at Braehour, Scotscalder.”

This 1972 newspaper clipping, was found in my gran’s old scrapbook.The ‘shepherdess’, Eileen O‘Donnell is my aunt. I couldn’t identify the newspaper it was originally published in.



Swapped for a lobster, this lamb from Braehour farm, arrived in the same coat pocket the lobster left in!

We named her JC, (J for Joanne and C for Cullen, my brother).

In the photo, I’m feeding her in the back garden of our home in Thurso, Caithness.  A favourite family pet, JC moved with us to Brough, 10 miles away, and a larger field!  

Source of Information

* Nucleus, The Nuclear & Caithness Archive.

1982 BBC documentary ‘The Bog People’.

*’A Future for Peat’ 1981, by Jim A Johnston, a Caithness Books publication.

*North of Scotland Newspapers – John O’Groat Journal. 

With special thanks for help with research to: 

Jim A. Johnston, of Bettyhill, Sutherland.

Garance Warburton, Community Engagement Officer at Nucleus,

Gordon Reid, Nuclear and Caithness Archivist.


Joanne B Kaar

November 2018