Saturday in Thurso

Welcome to Thurso

Welcome to Thurso

The weather wasn’t quite so good today, but Laurie took me out for a stroll regardless. Thurso‘s not a large place in any respect, but it’s pleasant to walk around.

We stopped off at the local museum, which was re-opened in a new location in 2008. It’s now branded Caithness Horizons and it encompasses the Thurso Heritage Centre. It’s actually a fair size, and the exhibits all look as shiny and nice as I’m sure they did when the place opened. A huge number of topics are covered including the geology, industries, natural landscape, wildlife, history, Viking era and the nearby Dounreay nuclear facility.

There aren’t a huge number of hands-on exhibits, but there’s a lot to read and I did enjoy myself for the hour or so we were inside. Most impressive, for me, was the actual core from the reactor at Dounreay. I am a science geek! Entry is free and further details can be found on their web site.

We then headed for the promenade, which we reached by going through a little archeway between two houses. I love how this archway marks the end of two streets. Very unusual.

Archway to the promenade

Archway to the promenade

As I said, the weather was a little miserable but the great thing with coastlines is that this just makes them look different. Blue skies and sun is nice, but clouds and wind is atmospheric. Quite a few people were out walking their dogs and pretty much everyone here will give you a nod and a “hello” as you pass them.

There’s a set of stairs bolted to the rocks at one point that we walked down. They end on the rocks themselves, which were rather slippy and not worth chancing. Maybe in the summer! Back up above the water, we continued plodding until we actually left Thurso and entered the next town, Scrabster. At this point, we doubled back on the main road and popped into The Ashes for a quick drink and a bite to eat.

According to Laurie, this is the place where anyone getting married in Thurso has their reception. Mainly as it’s the only place big enough! It has a lovely view out over the sea and the bar was cosy. What can I say, though? It sells cold beer, warm food, shows football and the barman was talking to one of the punters about Linux when I walked in!

Northernmost town

Northernmost town

We each had a bowl of soup (the brocolli and Stilton was yummy) before we wrapped up and braved the weather for the walk back into Thurso. On the way, I snapped a couple of the “Welcome to…” signs, one of which informed me that the guy who started the Boys Brigade was born up here. I suppose when you’re in a town at the top end of the country you do have to find something to do!

Shopping was picked up for dinner and we returned to the flat where Laurie cooked me a pre-Burns’ Night haggis. We didn’t quite manage neeps and tatties – rather baked beans and waffles. But close.

Once the meal had settled, I was engaged in another popular Highland tradition – the pub crawl. We made our way around a few establishments before ending the night in Skinandi’s, the only nightclub in town. At eight quid, it’s not cheap to get in but the bar prices are fair enough and there’s a free cloakroom for those who need it. Their burgers aren’t too bad either!

I think I got to bed around 4am with a belly full of post-night out pizza.

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Dunnet Head

Pretty far north

As north as I can go

My original plan for the day was to go to John o’Groats, which is about an hour away by bus. However, I was reliably informed by my kind host that there really isn’t a lot there apart from a pub. As it’s not tourist season, the famed signpost is stripped bare. They usually charge for you to have your picture taken there so when there’s nobody there to take your money they make it not worth your while!

Instead, I checked locally and found that I was very close to Dunnet Head – the northernmost point on mainland Britain. Seeing as I’ve already done the easternmost point in Australia and the southernmost point in continental Asia, this seemed like another one to add to the “collection”.

Getting there is pretty easy. There’s a regular bus (about every 2 hours) from right outside the train station in Thurso. It’s the number 80 and a return to Dunnet Corner is £3.20. The bus driver was really helpful and made sure I got off at the right place – just tell them you want to go and see the lighthouse.

Dunnet Corner is in a town called Brough. Watch your pronunciation of this – it’s “Broch” similar to the Scots “loch”. I was pronouncing it “Bruff” as there’s a Brough Park in Newcastle where the greyhound racing and speedway take place. Staff are kindly understanding of foreigners with their silly accent, so don’t worry.

Inland boating

Where did the water go?

When you get off the bus, there’s a very obvious sign pointing north and a distance of 3 miles marked. Just start walking up that road. You can’t get lost! Apparently there’s a café somewhere on the right but I didn’t spot it. It could have been one of a handful of buildings, but I expect it’s closed right now. Again, during the tourist season it’s probably far more obvious.

The hike took me around 90 minutes as I stopped to take quite a few photos of the scenery. Fortunately I’d picked a great day. A bit of cloud, a very slight breeze but no rain. And, best of all, no other people. I saw one guy in the distance walking his dog and a couple arrived at Dunnet Head itself just as I was leaving.

It’s a lovely walk up with gorse-covered land surrounding the road. There is a handful of small lakes to break up the green/brownery and a spectacular sea view on the right shortly after the houses, complete with tower of rock offshore.

At Dunnet Head itself there are two viewpoints – a cliff edge one and one further back from the edge atop a small hill which provides a lovely panorama back over the route you’ve walked (or driven) to get there. The cliff one is protected by a small barrier that it would be easy to jump over. I decided not to chance it as there’s not a lot of ground left from there before the real edge and it’s a bit of a drop…

Highland Scenery

Water, land, air, gorgeous

It is a nice view and you can see the islands off to the east. From the higher viewing point, John o’Groats and Thurso are both visible. I’d expect they’d look fantastic at night with the lights on.

So a few photos and some video later, and I started walking back. I got to the corner in good time for the bus coming along for the trip back to Thurso where the driver asked if I’d managed to get anything to eat or not! It’s obviously a very “local” service as people hopping on and off all seemed to know him and each other.

Perhaps not a hugely exciting day out, but one I really enjoyed. Fresh air, countryside, wonderful views, quiet and a bit of exercise.

And awesome chicken fajitas for dinner. I can definitely recommend the Tesco own-brand kits at a pound a pop. Further details of that on my other blog as there are some recipe hints I’d like to give!

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A quick trip north

South of Golspie

Scenery on the way up

My first little trip in a while and another UK-based one. Laurie is working as a schoolteacher up in Thurso, about as far north as you can go without your feet getting wet, and invited me up any time I wanted. Partly as it’s a nice place to show people around and partly as it’s always nice to have visitors to remind you that there are places with such futuristic inventions as cinemas. Thurso’s apparently shut down some years ago and the nearest is now in Inverness – about 3 hours’ or so drive.

I was tempted to drive up. It’s about 8-10 hours depending on the roads from Glasgow, but I would likely add at least an hour to that stopping and taking pictures. Add the cost of fuel these days and the train was the best option. I drove to Perth and caught the train from there – the saving on ticket price (and one less connection to risk missing) more than compensated for the cost of fuel to get there. £16.50 each way for around 6½ hours of travel isn’t too bad.

Still a fair bit of snow up here...

Passing through the Cairngorms

Of course, there are always problems. About two weeks ago a train was derailed south of Inverness in the recent harsh weather. They are still working to repair damage done, so there is an “emergency timetable” in effect. I did check thoroughly and this was having no real effect on the train I was booked on *phew*. Said train was about ten minutes late leaving Perth with my connection at Inverness departing at 13:59.

As I settled into my seat, I was informed that we were currently due to arrive in Inverness at 13:47 – over 20 minutes behind schedule. Oh dear. Still in time for my connection, but you never know…

Well, not to worry about something I can do nothing about I relaxed in the wrong seat (some open-mouth-chewing, ignorant old git had taken my reserved seat and didn’t seem keen on giving it up), popped some Fear Factory on and buried my head in back issues of 2000AD.

Once in a while I raised my head to admire the passing scenery, and it wss gorgeous. As we spent an hour or so going through the Cairngorms, it was obvious that not quite all the snow in Scotland had melted as it seemed to have in Perth and Glasgow. Hills, fields, and mountains were coated in the stuff. As we passed out of this cold zone, streams could be seen and rocky areas looked more like snow had been splattered on them and left to congeal.

The main town square by night, Thurso

View from the window

Fortunately, we made it to Inverness at the newly-advertised time and I swapped onto my new train where I’m currently sat, listening to Megadeth and typing this lot up. We’ve just had an announcement that we’re waiting for a southbound train to clear a single-track section before we can leave Muir of Ord, but hopefully I shouldn’t be too much past the 17:45 scheduled time into Thurso.


Pulled into Thurso pretty much on time where Laurie met me. Spag bol for dinner, a great chat and basic plans laid out for tomorrow.

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