If you keep driving north, north, north, shortly before you fall off the edge
of the earth you will reach Caithness, the extremity of mainland Scotland closest to
the North Pole. Caithness is where John O'Groats is, travel from here to Land's End
in Cornwall and you will have traversed the greatest distance possible between two
places in the UK. There's a great deal of other places of interest around the area,
and when the weather's nice it can look particularly spectacular.
My first visit to Caithness was in late summer 2006 to visit my friend Ken who works
there as a vet. Sheep outnumber people in Caithness by a significant factor, as such
there is plenty of business to keep him going, particularly when including the proliferation
of dogs and cows in the area too. I stayed up there for a couple of nights, saw the sights
and even visited the infamous "Skinandi's" night club, the most northerly in Britain.
The sweeping curve of the beach in Thurso, on the horizon are the cliffs of
visible only because we had the good fortune to have some of the best weather
that year. Not so great for the surfers though.
John O'Groats, not the most northerly point in the UK, but the furthest away from
another place (Land's End). There is a bloke in a buckie who sits and collects cash from
punters wanting their picture taken at the sign, apparently you have to pay even to use
your own camera, so I just waited until he wasn't looking.
The John O'Groats hotel is closed and boarded up, which is a shame as it looks
like it has the potential to be really nice. There's not a lot else in John O'Groats,
it's a bit of a tourist trap.
The ferry and small harbour at John O'Groats, where foot passengers can get the
boat over to
Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain. Yes, even further north
than John O'Groats, by at least a couple of miles.
Duncansby Stacks, some of the spectacular cliff formations to the east of John
The great British nuclear experiment was started here at Dounreay in the 1950s,
resulting in 3 reactors being built including the fast breeder reactor, capable of
producing more fuel than it burns. All reactors are now shut down and the site is
being decommissioned over the course of decades to come. However, a new reactor will
certainly be built here, unless the tree-huggers have their way.
The Dounreay visitor centre is a modest affair, built in the old air traffic
centre of the military airfield on which the reactors were built. You can
see (and even touch) the original reactor core, about the size of a washing machine
and capable of generating 15MW. But much more exciting than that was the mechanical arm
with which you can try your hand at maneouvering nuclear fuel rods (ahem...wooden blocks)
behind a glass screen, just like Homer Simpson!
The Grey Cairns of Camster are ancient human burial mounds, dating back 5500 years.
You can crawl around inside if you like.
Whaligoe Steps are curated these days by a very friendly chap descended from the
fishermen who used to use them for access to the whale-landing area down below. The steps
were in use for over 200 years.
My mate Ken outside his hoose in Thurso, see how pleased he is with it!
Scotland is a fairly breezy country, and Caithness is exemplary. As such, wind
farms are springing up left, right and centre, like these on the south road in to Thurso.
Another shot of the blue-green sea at Thurso beach. In the background are the
cliffs of Dunnet Head.