Things to do, places to go

Planning and booking things to do

Easy days out

Caithness is blessed with a lot of free and low-cost outdoor places to visit – blow those cobwebs away!

In walking distance

Grab some binoculars, put on your boots and explore nearby. Go rock-pooling on Sandigoe Beach. You may see seals. Please watch them from a distance – you’ll stress them less and see them for longer. Walk to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe – you can see from the kitchen window. If you spend time watching the birds on the cliffs you may spot a couple of puffins when they visit us in the summer.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Around the Headland

This walk around the headland takes two to three hours. If you do it clockwise, you start by going through the walled garden where the lighthouse families grew their vegetables (remember to leave the gates as you find them). Follow the route of the John o’Groats trail down along the coast to Staxigoe harbour (at one time Britain’s largest place for processing Herrings). Your route back to the lighthouse along the road is a walk through history, when you go past the war memorial, the airport, the new switching station and the old WW2 buildings.

Sea pinks and clovers on the headland at Noss Head
Sea pinks and clovers on the headland at Noss Head

Days for the kids

Fairy Glen walk, Latheronwheel is favourite with families! A magical walk in the woods, complete with a myriad of fairy homes to find. Park down at the harbour and pass a Lord of the Rings style bridge to find the woods. This walk also connects with the coastal John o’Groats trail so please take care.

Puffin Croft petting farm is on the last turning to the right before you get to John o’Groats – Cara has goats, pigs and donkeys as well as smaller animals for children to pet. There is also an Animal Centre at the Queen Mother’s former home in the Castle of Mey, and sculptures to find in Dunnet Forest. If you want to book something indoor, then Messy Nessy Play in Thurso provide pottery painting and other indoor activities for kids.

If you have older kids who actively want to get wet, then North Coast Water Sports provide taster sessions for surfing. Caithness Seacoast do a half hour harbour cruise for children.

Dunnet day out

Dunnet Head is the UK Mainland’s most northerly point (further North than John o’Groats. If you are staying with us in summer, take some binoculars to watch the puffins on the cliffs by the lighthouse. While you are there, take the short walk up hill to admire the 360° views – Orkney to your North and the whole of the UK to your South. When the tide is out at Dunnet Bay, pick up some shells or sea-china and admire the sand dunes. Near the beach is Dunnet Forest – look out for the carved sculptures!  For some local gin and other spirits, book a distillery tastings of Rock Rose products at Dunnet Bay Distillers, or if whisky’s your tipple book a tour of the Wolfburn distillery.

Big skies on Dunnet Beach
Big skies on Dunnet Beach

A day out in the Iron Age

Caithness had large and thriving community of master builders when the Romans were building Hadrian’s wall.  Explore Iron Age Caithness a walking down to Occumster broch, or by following the Yarrows archaeological trail with a visit to Camster Cairns and the Hill o’ Many Stanes. Other brochs south of the cottage can be found at Dunebeath and Ousedale. Or head out to the North West and visit Broch Dun Dornaigil in Sutherland. Find out more about the rich archaeological history of Caithness from the Caithness Broch Project website.

Broch Dun Dornaigil, Sutherland
Broch Dun Dornaigil, Sutherland

Half a day around John o’Groats

John o’Groats is the famous far end of the trail from Land’s End. If the cafes and shops are closed, you can still take a selfie by the sign. Check to see if the petting farm at Puffin Croft  is open – don’t forget to take some cash (£2 per person) with you for Cara’s honesty box – it helps her pay for vet bills and animal feed. The very first part of the John o’Groats trail is easy to walk. You can look out at the view towards the deserted island of Stroma, or search for cowrie shells, known locally as Groatie Buckies! Brewery fans can also experience a local tour at the John O’Groats Brewery.

John o’Groats is neither the most northerly point of the UK (that’s Dunnet Head) nor the most north-easterly (that’s Duncansby). Be sure to go to Duncansby and take photos of the conical sea-stacks, they’re something special even by the high standards of the sea stacks that surround the Caithness coast.

Days of castles and cottages

Our nearest castle is Castle Sinclair Girnigoe which you can see from the kitchen window. It’s an easy walk to the castle to from the cottage. Then there’s the Castle of Old Wick – Scotland’s oldest castle. It’s square and solid and built just a few hundred years after the last of the round tower Brochs. You can’t visit Keiss Castle from the road, but you can see it from Keiss Beach. Thurso has St Peter’s Church and Brims Castle both of which are great for moody photographs.

Further afield, check to see if the ground are open at the Queen Mother’s Castle of Mey to the north and at Dunrobin Castle to the south. Both castles run tours, so book in advance if this is something that interests you.

At the other end of the social scale, visit Badbea Clearance Village for the story of the Dukes of Sutherland’s tenants, and check opening hours for the Croft Museum at Laidhay, Mary Ann’s Cottage, the Wick Heritage Museum and the Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Castle of Old Wick
Castle of Old Wick

Caithness’s amazing beaches

Caithness has almost too many beaches to mention. The nearest is Sandigoe, go rockpooling there and look out for the remains of the metal-works you can see in the photos of the Dishon family in the hall. You can see Keiss and Reiss from the kitchen window; they’re lovely long sandy beaches which are great for exercising your dog or flying a kite. Dunnet has impressive rollers and is a good beach for walks and beach-combing. Peedie Sands is tucked away below the House of the Northern Gate.

Stay safe, and check your tide times. If the tide is in, then visit our pre-historic beach at Achanarras quarry – if you are lucky you may find a fossilised fish!

Kite flying on Reiss Beach
Kite flying on Reiss Beach

 

Exploring Dunbeath

Dunbeath has a strong literary connection, as famous Scottish novelist Neil M Gunn was born there. He was heavily inspired by his home turf in his writings. A walk along Dunbeath Strath is worth doing, as well as spotting the harbour house and Silver Darlings statue closer to the sea. The John o’Groats trail also passes along the rocks to a view of Dunbeath Castle.

For horticulture fans, Dunbeath Castle gardens (gardens only, the castle is private) can be visited by prior appointment only. The gardens are stunning in the summer months, filled with a wide variety of plant and flower life.

Historic Pulteneytown

Designed by Thomas Telford, Pulteneytown still has evidence of links to the fishing industry boom in the early 19th century (Wick Harbour), a WW2 bombing  (Memorial Gardens), and local life in Wick (Wick Heritage Museum – please check opening times). Take a walk around the area and be transported to past times! Photography fans will enjoy seeing some of the Johnston Collection and those interested in hearing some local history complete with authentic Caithness words and dialect should visit Wick Voices online.

Creative Caithness

Caithness has a creative population, and there are many artists, creators and makers in the county; read about the local artists whose work we have here in the Cottage, or visit the studios and shops here in Caithness. There is pottery at Forse, jewellery and art at Lindsay Gallacher’s Studio in Thurso, and a large shop of local arts and crafts at Forse of Nature and Patricia Neimann has a small studio in the old Post Office at Berriedale

Lyth Arts Centre is the most northerly arts centre on the UK mainland, and while live events are difficult to run in these pandemic times, there are still occasional online events and resources which may spark your interest, and the Coos Tail Gallery in Thurso showcases local artists – we got a lot of our pictures from there.