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Along the north coast of Caithness

Home -> Europe -> Scotland -> Travelogue Scotland -> 02 June 2007

Saturday 02 June, along the north coast of Caithness

ThursoIn contrast to the last two days, it is gray outside today, very gray. It is also a lot cooler and we keep the sweater on and a rain jacket within reach. First we take a walk through Thurso, the small town, the harbor and the outer areas. The tourist information is unfortunately closed despite the opening hours they advertise on the door. Fortunately, we have our own travel guides with us, but often you will find more information about the area locally than mentioned in the guides. Thurso is probably one of the larger cities in the north, but it is not really a lively city, we quickly notice.
Old St Peter’s Church Old St Peter’s ChurchThe nicest part is around the Old st. Peter's Church and the harbor. The ruin of this church dates back to the 13th century and is worth a visit. The harbor itself has been surpassed by the one in nearby Scrabster where the ferry leaves to the Orkney Islands. There is also a 'new' suburb in Thurso where the Thurso castle is located, but that does not appeal to us.
View on Dunnet HeadAfter exploring the town we leave for John 'o Groats, of which I do not particularly like. In itself, the coastal road is quite fun to drive and the view is quite nice, as here on Dunnet's head from afar, the most northerly point of the 'mainland' of Great Britain.
Cows on the road The northern coast of CaithnessThe landscape in the interior is mainly agricultural: large rags of pasture with mainly cows (and sheep of course), slightly sloping, in itself quite nice but not if you are sitting next to someone who is ultimately wants to drive all roads shown on his map, because then you see all those same meadows from about 8 different sides. And after a while it gets boring ... (sorry Teije).
A strange wall Slate instead of fencesHowever, we naturally get to see everything from Scotland and encounter, among other things, a few weird buildings, unfinished walls like the ones on the left picture. Just as if one started to build but did not get a permit to continue. Or would it be to break the wind from the coast so that animals can find a shelter? A lot of shale is mined here and the plates are also used to reinforce the fences between meadows.
Dunnet Estate Mary Ann's cottageAnd of course we see lots of great houses such as Dunnet Estate where bold letters indicate that it is 'private' (I would also do that!). And there are so many signs pointing to Mary Ann's cottage that we have to go there, as if it were a Scottish wonder of the world. In reality it is a very pretty house that has been inhabited for almost a century and a half until the Caithness Heritage Trust took over the management for this house as a prove of recent history.
Dunnet Head The coast at Dunnet HeadWhen we arrive at Dunnet Head we almost got blown off the road when we get out of the car. The view of the cliffs and the 19th century lighthouse is beautiful, but we are not such sea-loving people. We find the sea only beautiful when there is also a lot of land. We brave the wind a few minutes and then quickly go back to the car, because it is pretty cool, it will not be much more than 12 or 13 degrees.
Deserted harbour Dunnet Head from the eastAlong the coast we drive all the roads that we (I mean Teije) can find and sometimes we find a deserted harbor and sheds. The sky is getting grayer all the time and getting out is not so pleasant anymore, it's that cold.
Castle of Mey Castle of MeyOf course we also pass Castle of Mey, the castle where the Queen Mother Elizabeth spent several weeks a year until her death. We have visited the castle in 2005 and that was very worthwhile, a castle with an atmosphere reigns as if it is still inhabited and that is also a bit true because Prince Charles stays there every year for a while.
John O'Groats John O'GroatsAnd then we are in John 'o Groats, named after Jan de Groot who set up a ferry service to the Orkneys at this spot in the 15th century. The village is quite well known for that but it is not really inviting. This time it is slightly better than the last time we were here and we walk around for a while. Nice is the abandoned hotel (Groats inn) and given the familiarity of the village we do not understand that it is no longer in operation (but well, I would not want to live and work here either). Furthermore, everything is tourism-oriented: for a few pounds you can put your own place (with the distance to it) on a signposting for a photo.
Stacks of DuncansbyAt Duncansby Head the view is much more spectacular even though it is becoming increasingly foggy. Impressive cliffs rise up to 60 meters from the sea. Without fog we would probably could seen the Orkneys. Earlier today we have already seen the island of Stroma, but that does not officially belong to the Orkneys.
Coast at Skirza Sea at WickThe wind is getting even stronger and the sea is going wild. We now go along the coast to the south and drive every sideroad that we see. And we have been staring about 10 minutes to the rocks on the left photo since according to our navigatio there should be something interesting to see; a so-called point of interest that we have installed ourselves, but we do not know exactly what. After some searching and trying, we find out that the navigation thinks that there is a petrol station with LPG! If we give the instruction that we want to use it as the final destination, the distance is suddenly more than 20 miles and the filling station is in Wick (which is indeed correct). And we fantasized about a prehistoric settlement buried in the sea or something similar!
Keiss CastleOn our way to the south we encounter a lot of castles, most of them only visible from afar: Bucholly, Freswick, Keiss, Wick, Ackergill and Sinclair Girngoe. And then we might miss a few more. You would mainly expect castles from the Vikings, but these are mainly from a somewhat later era (14th, 15th century). If you look at a globe, this piece of Scotland is closest to Norway.
Staxigoe harbour Lost sheepA little south of Wick we end our trip along the coast and go back to Thurso via all kinds of back roads (which we have never driven before). We regularly come across a 'familiar' small road where a sheep is (completely rightfully) gives us a sheepish stare. But 'luckily' Teije always knows how to find a still unexplored road.
We are back late in Thurso where a part of the square we are looking at from our room, is closed. The whole evening there is a pipeband marching back and forth, we do not know in honor of what, but maybe it's just a practice evening that the audience can enjoy. I love bagpipe music, if only because of the 'Scottish' feeling it gives me.
It is less beautiful weather tonight than yesterday and a lot colder, so there are also not many noisy youths about who want to turn the city upside down with their cars. A nice book and early to bed!


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