Things to do, places to go

Planning and booking things to do

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. Click here for a map.

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. This walk also connects with the coastal John o’Groats trail.

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

Days out with the kids

Animal Magic

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 the walk at Geise Farm near Thurso lets  you visit their meercats as well as other animals.  Northern Storm Equine Adventures offer horseback riding on the beach, and carriage rides around town; contact them via Messenger.  Or go on a trek with Ulbster Alpacas or visit the reindeer at Lichen Caithness.

Big and Small Adventures

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 and take some change to donate to the upkeep.

Dunnet Forest provides another woodland walk with sculptures to find. If you want to book something indoors, then Messy Nessy Play in Thurso provide pottery painting and other indoor activities for kids.

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

There are more ideas in my blog post The NC500 with children and dogs.

Easy Itineraries

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 in the nature reserve 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 before the Romans built Hadrian’s wall.  Explore Iron Age Caithness a walking down to Ousedale Broch, or by following the Yarrows archaeological trail with a visit to Camster Cairns and the Hill o’ Many Stanes and Caithness’s very own stone circle at Achavanich. Or walk up the strath to Dunbeath Broch.  If you head out North West you can 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 us here in Caithness.

Historic Pulteneytown

Thomas Telford designed Pulteneytown in the early 19th century to support the booming fishing industry. Although it was a “dry” town, it is the home of Old Pulteney whisky, and you can tour the distillery.  Wick Harbour is a favourite walk of our dogs (harbours smell amazing!) and is overlooked by the new Seafarers’ Memorial. The secluded Memorial Gardens commemorate a WW2 bombing raid, and you can find out more about local life in Wick and visit the lighthouse lens (two storeys high) in the Wick Heritage MuseumPhotography 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.

Over to Orkney

Why not take a trip to Orkney? Check ferry times and book to go as foot passengers or with the car on Northlink Ferries and Pentland Ferries.

Distillery tours

Caithness has a wide range of craft and prize-winning distillers and some provide fascinating tours. Remember all visitors will need to be over 18, and you’ll need to nominate a driver or book a cab home.

And a couple you can’t visit but whose spirits you can buy in McKays in Thurso and Bin Ends in Thurso and Wick.

Castles and cottages

There are too many castles to mention! The nearest 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 – at one time thought to be Scotland’s oldest castle. The walk from Keiss to John o’Groats goes past three castles at Keiss, Bucholly and Freswick. You can reach the last two with a walk from the road.  For tours round castles still very much in use, visit the Queen Mother’s Castle of Mey to the north, or Dunrobin Castle to the south.

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 not the easiest to get to, but worth the walk.

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

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.

Great places to find work by local makers are the Coos Tail Gallery and Eye Candy in Thurso, Ortak and the other shops at John o’Groats, Puldagon Farm Shop  near Wick, and Forse of Nature at Latheron on the A99.

You can also visit individual makers – pop into Lisa at Havenhouse Art on the way into Wick, visit Jennie Mackenzie Ross at  North Shore Pottery opposite Forse of Nature, pop into Lindsay Gallacher’s Studio in Thurso to see her jewellery and work by other makers, Keith Parkes has wonderful woodwork at Dunnet, and Patricia Neimann is a silversmith at Berriedale.

Scroll to Top