Welcome to Wick John O’Groats Airport
Once a Viking settlement, and one of the busiest herring fishing ports, is now home to the Castle of Mey and Old Pulteney whisky distillery.
In the far north of mainland Scotland, Caithness and Sutherland offer unspoilt natural surroundings, small enterprising communities, and natural wonders – wildlife, history and a unique local culture.
This area comprises what used to be the county of Caithness and includes the main settlements of Wick and Thurso.
Wick has its origin as a Viking settlement – its name coming from the Norse Vik meaning bay. It became a Royal Burgh in 1589 but enjoyed its greatest prosperity in the 1800s when it developed as a thriving herring port, becoming the busiest in Europe.
Wick and Pulteney town, respectively on the north and south banks of the River Wick, together make up what is generally now known as Wick. The former has a busy shopping centre and many of its buildings show their Victorian origins, while the latter was the heart of the fishing industry.
Wick John O’Groats Airport is nestled on the outskirts of Wick, and offers visitors and business users a daily flight to Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
South of the town are the ruins of Old Wick Castle dating from the 1100s and three miles to the north-east of Wick are the ruins of Sinclair and Girnigoe castles.
The history of Thurso echoes that of Wick. Its name also comes from the Norse, from Thorsameaning Thor’s River, and in Viking times, it was an important gateway to the mainland. Much of the economy of Thurso today is tied up with the presence of the Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment, located on the coast eight miles west of the town.
Thurso has an interesting old town, to be found near its harbour. Here are the ruins of Old St Peter’s Church, which dates back to 1220, and the Thurso Heritage Museum, which exhibits the intricately carved Pictish Skinnet Stone.
Just to the west of Thurso lies Scrabster, the main ferry port for Orkney, whose outline can be seen rising from the sea to the north. A further vehicle ferry is now operated by Pentland Ferries to Orkney from Gills Bay, near John O’ Groats.
John O’ Groats is possibly the most visited location in the area, the starting point for many a long distance walker en-route to Lands End. On the well-trodden tourist trail of the north-east Scotland, the village offers a range of facilities for its many visitors. A seasonal passenger-only ferry makes the short crossing from here to Orkney. Two miles further east from John O’ Groats is the lighthouse and spectacular cliff scenery of Duncansby Head.
Between John O’ Groats and Thurso you can find Dunnet Head, a windy, lonely spot and the most northerly place on mainland Scotland. Just to the west of Dunnet Head is the planned village of Castletown.
South of Wick, the main A9 tends to stay close to the east coast and passes through a series of attractive settlements and villages. These include Latheron, where the roads north to Wick and Thurso diverge, Lybster, Dunbeath with its attractive harbour and spectacular castle, Berriedale with its very steep descent and ascent on the main road and Helmsdale.
Local Activities and Places of Interest
The whole region offers fabulous outdoor sporting activities, from golf to sailing, from hill and forest walks to mountain biking and abseiling. To the west there are the Assynt Mountains, recently designated the UK’s first Geopark – a magnet for geologists and climbers from all over the world. Spectacular white sand beaches and cliffs dot the coastline, and the offshore stacs are homes to massive colonies of seabirds.
The flow country is an internationally important habitat for birds and the area is also home to eagles, red kite, deer, otter and a range of subtropical plants that thrive in special gardens on the west coast.
The variety of places to visit include the Castle of Mey – the late Queen Mother’s favourite Highland holiday place now owned by Prince Charles and offering a great range of locally sourced and created foods, Wick Heritage Museum that charts the herring boom years of the 19th century and Dunnet head – the most northerly point of the British mainland and Dunrobin Castle with its spectacular decorative gardens.
Some of Caithness’ Local Attractions include:
- Cairn O’Get – a horned and chambered burial cairn of Neolithic date, located in an area of much archaeological interest. (1.5 miles southwest of Ulbster on the A9)
- Caithness Horizons – major visitor centre conversion of Thurso Town Hall to housing the exhibitions of The Thurso Heritage Society and the UKAEA’s old visitor centre at Dounreay.
- Castle and Gardens of May – the most northerly castle in mainland Scotland, restored by the late Queen Mother.
- Castle of Wick – the ruin of the best-preserved Norse castle in Scotland, on a spine of rock projecting into the sea, between two deep, narrow gullies. (One mile south of Wick on Shore Road)
- Halkirk Highland Games – the premiere sporting event in the north of Scotland and the Scottish Highlands and Islands, held on the last Saturday in July.
- John O’ Groats – the end of the long road from Land’s End and where the famous Flow Country rolls down to meet the red sandstone cliffs of the Pentland Firth
- Old Pulteney Distillery – Visitor Centre, (Huddart Street, Wick)
- Wick Heritage Museum – the largest multi-award winning museum in the north of Scotland. (18-27 Bank Row, Wick)
- For Sailing Trips – Wick harbour has recently opened a new marina facility. For more information, please visit www.wickharbour.co.uk.
- Fishing – Hugo Ross owns a Fishing Tackle shop in Wick. He has several loch fishing locations in the county and can also arrange sea fishing trips for you. For more information, please visit www.hugoross.co.uk.
- There are bird watching tours, extensive photographic collections of wildlife, flora and forna and lots of local information on www.caithness.org.