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.
Our campsite was on the banks of the River Wick. Gulls and ducks were nesting on islands in the middle and there are riverside walks
with some flowers still in bloom.
We walked with into town: passing some street art done by a local youth group
Emerging by the bridge you are opposite the smallest street in the world: the 2.06 metres and one door of Ebenezer Place. Pulteney lies to the south of the river and was not united with the Burgh of Wick until 1901. It is the home of Pulteney Distillery which dates from 1825.
Before this, there was a meal mill and brewery on the same site powered by water from Loch Hemphrigg which lies to the south; piped by the Telford water scheme. The town did not get piped water until 1845 after the cholera epidemic of 1836. Down at the harbour we walked past the South Pier
Herring fishing was a big industry in the 19th and early 20th century. The biggest recorded catch in one day was on 23rd August 1864 when 926 boats landed 24,000 crans of herring. The gutters and processors dealt with over 24 million herring in a single day. At its peak, Wick was the biggest herring port in the world. In the 1930s the industry began to decline and ceased in the Second World War. After a brief revival in the 1950s, it declined again and now there are only occasional white fish landings and some crabs, lobsters and clams mostly for the European market. Aside from leisure boats, there were several support vessels and company offices for the extensive wind farms we saw offshore yesterday.
A cannon sits by the harbour near the old herring market. It had been presented to the harbour trust in 1881 to act as a fog signal after the death of many fishermen at sea. The gun was moved to its current position in 2012.
Telford planned the Pulteney harbour, town and bridge; building beginning in 1807, much of the new housing was for people displaced by the clearances. The layout of new roads was planned. The Wick-Thurso road opened in 1813. In Albert Square we spotted something not seen in any other town we have visited: streetlights being washed.
Back across the river, we had coffee in the High Street where like many other towns in the UK, there were empty shops. I had intended to spend some time in the afternoon walking along the riverside but heavy showers of rain arrived so that was shelved, as was a coastal walk to the Trinkie Swimming Pool and Old Wick Castle which we will visit on the way out tomorrow.