After driving from Ullapool to Thurso I spent the remainder of the day exploring the northeastern region of Scotland before boarding the evening ferry headed to St. Margaret’s Hope on the Orkney Islands. This area of Scotland, known as Caithness county, located on the northeastern Scottish mainland is one of the most remote regions of the country. Caithness county is home to numerous small towns, villages and tourist attractions. Here are some of the area highlights:
Once the commercial center for the production of flagstones that paved the streets of Montevideo and Sydney, today Castlehill is home to the Castlehill Heritage Center. The Castlehill Heritage Center aims to preserve the local history, culture and traditions of the village of Castletown. A well-maintained trail known as the Flagstone Heritage Trail leads through the former flagstone works. Admission to the Castlehill Heritage Center is free and the center hosts regular on-site exhibitions and workshops for visitors. Visit the Castletown Heritage Society website for details.
Despite the fact that John O’Groats receives a lot of attention as Scotland’s northernmost town, Dunnet Head is actually the most northerly point on mainland Britain. The Dunnet Head lighthouse was built in 1831 by the grandfather of the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson and to this day provides panoramic views across the Pentland Firth all the way to the Orkney Islands in the north. The Seadrift Visitor Center is a popular attraction providing information about the areas history and wildlife. The center is located about a mile outside the village and admission is free.
Gill’s Bay is the departure point for the Pentland car ferry that travels between the mainland and the town of St. Margaret’s Hope on the Orkney Islands. The ferries run year-round with several departures per day. While it costs more to bring your car along to Orkney, based on my own experience it’s worth it. Public transportation is available but infrequent and fairly expensive. Some routes only run on specific days of the week and taxis on the island are even more expensive. Depending on your itinerary, you’ll be able to see and do a lot more if you have access to your own vehicle.
Reached by walking along the coast from nearby John O’Groats, Duncansby Head is the site of the jagged Stacks of Duncansby on the northeast coast of Caithness county. The scenery is spectacular. White sand beaches, cliffs, caves, natural arches, narrow inlets and turquoise blue waters. En route you’ll pass the Ness of Duncansby and Sannick Bay before arriving at the Duncansby Head lighthouse. Once at the lighthouse the Stacks of Duncansby are visible to your right.
Famous for end-to-end fund raising journeys to and from Land’s End, John O’Groats is located at the northeastern tip of the Scottish mainland. Attractions in John O’Groats include the octagonal house of Jan de Groot and the Last House museum and shop. The local John O’Groats ferry company operates passages to and from the Orkney Islands between May and September and coastal wildlife tours from mid-June through August. The area surrounding John O’Groats is home to seals, dolphins, whales, porpoises and an array of bird life including puffins, razorbills and guillemots.
If You Go
Once in the area be sure to pick up a copy of the Caithness Explorer for information on the local area and area attractions and for more information visit the Scotland Tourism Board website.