Round Britain: Wick to John O’Groats


Before leaving Wick we drove down the coast on the Trinkie Road. Trinkie means trunk and the road passes the Trinkie outdoor swimming pool. In the first third of the 20th century many local authorities around the Scottish coast created outdoor pools filled by the tides. They were used for swimming lessons, parties, barbecues and other festivities. Trinkie was restored several years ago and re-opened in 2003.

Just in case you cannot remember the name, it is painted on the rocks.

A little further along the road is the car park and the path to Old Wick Castle. It is a simple tower form and is one of the oldest castles in Scotland, thought to have been built by the Earl of Caithness, Harald Maddadson in the 1160s. In the 14th century wars of independence it was held by Sir Reginald Cheyne, a supporter of English King Edward I.

Driving back around the harbour, across the bridge and round the other side, we passed through the communities of Papigoe and Staxigoe. Before the road system was fully established this far north, Staxigoe was an important port in Caithness. At the end of Noss Head is a Stevenson lighthouse built in 1849 and automated in 1987. Noss comes from the Norse for nose: snos.

There was a statue outside it with no mention of who it was/represented. On the north side of the headland stands Castle Sinclair Giringoe. The Sinclair family who became Earls of Caithness have occupied the site since the 14th century when building began. It was remodelled in the 16th century by the 5th Earl but seized by Cromwell’s troops in 1651. They used it for nine years as their major north stronghold. The Sixth Earl sold the land title to a cousin and after the Earl’s death there was a dispute leading to a land battle and the castle became ruined and has remained so ever since.

The headland was a radio and secret listening post in World War Two. There are views across Sinclair Bay towards Castle Keiss and Duncansby Head. It is about 58.28◦ North. Back in town we picked up the A99 which runs around Sinclair Bay and through a number of small communities. Keiss has a castle; The Caithness Broch Centre is at Auckengill and there is another Castle at Feswick in a small bay. We ran into rain and low cloud before the road climbed Warth Hill and then descended towards John O’ Groats. We turned off to Duncansby Head, the most north easterly part of the British mainland. In between showers we looked at the lighthouse.

The Pentland Skerries are a group of islands offshore. The smallest, Little Skerry has a lighthouse.

Stroma lies to the north and a little further north are the Orkney Islands. After lunch I walked over the hill to the Duncansby Stacks which are impressive structures along the cliffs.

After we had settled into the campsite at John O’Groats, a transient rainbow raised our hopes of better weather tomorrow.

Bus shelter greenhouse, bookshop and beach

This morning we had to go the Thurso for supplies and on the way passed the Skerray bus stop (which I presume is now defunct) and has been converted into a greenhouse.

Bus shelter greenhouse Skerray 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Nearer to Thurso We passed Dounreay nuclear power station and I recalled lorries of nuclear waste trundling down the A9 through Dunblane at night heading for reprocessing further south. It appears to be in the process of being closed which will decimate local employment opportunities despite being good for the environment. In Thurso we headed for the first bakery/cafe we saw to top up the caffeine levels and I overheard a conversation between a wiry 60-something cyclist from Northern England and the woman behind the counter. He was trying to offload all his small change but she reminded him that he might like it to weigh him down when battling the wind on his way to Tongue. I could not resist asking him if he had cycled all the way up here but no, he had taken the train to Elgin to stay with a relative and having been to John O’Groats was now heading for Durness and the west coast. I bid him good luck as he would be battling a strong headwind. Indeed we passed him later on as we drove up the hill out of Thurso.

I was very happy to discover that Thurso has a secondhand bookshop and found a first edition of a volume of the New Naturalist series that I collect. After that we left town and headed back along the coast wondering about walking out to the old lighthouse on Strathy Point. Having got as far as the car park the very high winds made it not safe to walk any further out to the end of the point and the lighthouse (only the third time I have abandoned a walk due to wind). Instead we had lunch back at the cottage and a walk on the more sheltered Torrisdale Bay.

Torrisdale Bay 1 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Torrisdale Bay 2 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)