To make the most of your stay in the region we recommend a hire car. Richard’s Garage will sort you out with just the right vehicle and meet you at the airport from at 10.10am when you land from Aberdeen.
If this is the first time you’ve ventured this far north, then of course you’ll want to check out all that Wick has to offer. But with the car, and a little more time, you’ll really begin to get a sense of our region.
You really should with what’s on the doorstep. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is just a stone’s throw from the airport, although you do have to drive the long way round the runway, so it would be rude not to head here first.
Once you’ve soaked up the history, drive north towards Duncansby Head. The A99 hugs the coastline as it heads north; you’ll pass Wick Golf Course at Reiss Sands on the way, did you bring your clubs? I’m sure they would have fitted in the hold… Visitors are always welcome, and the links course is the oldest on the NC500.
There’s something quite magical as you turn off the main road onto the minor road, then single track that leads to the lighthouse at Duncansby Head. This is the most north-easterly tip of mainland Scotland, and it feels like you’re at the edge of the world. The cliffs are amazing.
Admire the lighthouse, then follow the well-worn path south across the fields to Duncansby Stacks. It’s quite something to gaze atop the cliffs to the waves crashing below, but please be careful, we don’t want to lose you!
From here it’s just a short drive through spectacular landscapes to one of the most famous signposts in Caithness, that black and white fingerpost at John O’Groats. The village itself is worth exploring, and you’ll no doubt admire the gateway that marks the end-point of the 147-mile long John O’Groats Trail. You’ll need more than an afternoon to follow it all the way to Inverness. Mark that down for a future trip.
By now you’ll be feeling peckish. Stop in at the The Northern Point for lunch, there’s a roaring log fire when it’s needed, and there are wonderful views across the firth to Orkney. Or try some freshly caught seafood at The Seaview Hotel. Neither is a poor option!
Which leaves us with an afternoon to fill. The choice is yours, why not hop onto a 90-minute Wildlife Cruise from the John O’Groats Ferry? Book online in advance, or from the kiosk on the pier, 20-minutes before the 2.30 pm sailing. You’re almost guaranteed to see Arctic Grey seals, but will there be minke whales, porpoises, dolphins, and puffins too? The captain will decide the route depending on weather and tides, but you’re guaranteed a different perspective on the remarkable Caithness coastline.
All this fresh air might be working up another appetite, we’re heading further west when we reach the shore, and Annie’s Bakery, on her parents’ croft at Canisbay, is worth seeking out for award-winning cakes and bakes.
This hotel is aptly named, Dunnet Bay is a gentle sweep of golden sand, and, if you can brave the cold, a wonderful place to swim. It’s also home to the award-winning Dunnet Bay Distillery, who make the famous Rock Rose Gin. Take a tour to see how their gins and Holy Grass Vodka are distilled, before buying a bottle or two to bring home.
Next door to the distillery is Mary Ann’s Cottage. Mary Ann lived here for 93 years and kept the cottage pretty-well unchanged from when her grandparents lived there in the 1850s. It’s a window on Caithness life in times gone by, and the volunteer guides are happy to share their knowledge with you.
Breakfast at The Northern Sands will set you up for another day of exploring. Before you leave, take time to wander Dunnet Bay again, dip your toes into the clear waters of the Pentland Firth, and just breathe. Have you ever been anywhere more beautiful?
Your first stop today is to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the UK Mainland. Enjoy the single-track road as it winds between lochs, and among sheep, and take in the views from the lighthouse. It might be windy, hold onto your car door, and to any small children!
As you drive further east towards Thurso, you’ll pass Castletown. If time permits there’s a wonderful Heritage Centre here, and the Caithness Flagstone Trail tells the story of the famous Caithness stone, and how it was transported all over the world.
Thurso is your next port of call. Admire the town and its handsome stone buildings and enjoy a walk up the river, it’s a popular fishing spot for herons.
Find a spot for lunch, The Blue Door Café is the perfect place to refuel. Check out their popular burgers and finish with a legendary milkshake made with their award-winning ice-cream! You might want to keep your wits about you and stay on the soft drinks, though, because this afternoon you’re heading for the beach.
Thurso beach. It might not feel like bikini weather, but did you realise Thurso is a world-wide mecca for surfing? If the wind and tides are right, Thurso beach rivals Hawaii for waves. You might need more than just a pair of trunks to keep the cold at bay though…
Spend the afternoon with North Coast Water Sports taking a surf lesson, trying paddle-boarding or just enjoy the waves from the beach, that’s allowed too! Or leave the waves to others, and research Thurso’s shops, perhaps paying a visit to Lindsey Gallagher’s Jewellery and Art Studio. Under her expert tutelage, try designing your own piece of jewellery. A precious reminder of your time spent in Caithness.
If history is your thing, the North Coast Visitor Centre will fill your mind and imagination; Pictish artefacts, a contemporary art gallery, wonderful café and shop await your pleasure.
If you’ve just been able to spare a single night away, you’ll soon need to head back to the airport, quiet roads mean it’s just a half-hour drive back to the airport.
Their comfortable rooms will give you somewhere welcome to relax, unwind, and rest your head. Their central location makes them an ideal place for exploring everything that Wick has to offer; the Thomas Telfer designed Pulteneytown, Old Pulteney Distillery and Wick Heritage Centre, plus the riverside walks and the harbour.
But best of all, a night in Wick gives you a chance to dine in Mackay’s No 1 Bistro, with fresh, seasonal produce, and enjoy a dram or two from Murray’s well-stocked whisky bar. At breakfast the following morning the smoked haddock with poached egg is unmissable. They can even tell you which farm the egg came from.
By now you’ll be getting the idea that Caithness has so much to offer; history, heritage, and wonderful wildlife and food and drink. There is opportunity for adventures aplenty, we’ve not even talked about cycling and walking routes, nor have we done anything more than hug the coastline.
We’re spending the morning In Wick, exploring its heritage, its harbour and, if your legs allow, a coastal walk to The Castle of Old Wick. Either book a guide to take you and tell you the stories of the area on the way or follow the signs, and bring an OS map.
This impressive ruin was built in the 12th century by Harald Maddadson, the Earl of Caithness, when Caithness and Sutherland were part of the Norse kingdom. The walk will take you past The Trinkie, a natural sea-water swimming pool. Don’t forget your trunks!
If Prince Charles is not in residence, you might with to retrace your steps this afternoon back towards the north coast to an altogether different castle experience, the Castle of Mey.
Take the inland road via Lyth and within half an hour you’ll be at the beloved former home of HRH The Queen Mother. The castle and its extensive grounds are open every Wednesday to Saturday between 1st May and 30th September, except when Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, are in residence.
You’ll be needing some sustenance after this morning’s walk, so enjoy lunch in the café before a guided tour of the castle. There should be time then to explore the well-kept grounds but keep an eye on the clock. You’d best be on your way by around 4pm of you’ll miss your flight back to Aberdeen!
Other accommodation options
We suspect that you’ll want to stay longer than just a couple of nights… and anyway, it’s always good to have some more accommodation options up your sleeve, from hotels and luxury lodges to B+B’s and group self-catering, Caithness has what you’re looking for. Here are just a few alternatives we’ve hand-picked for you, while you explore the very best that Caithness has to offer during your adventures in the north.
We appreciate that hotels don’t suit everyone, but self-catering doesn’t mean you have to compromise on either luxury or comfort. Set on a working farm just 15-minutes’ drive from Wick John O’Groats Airport, the luxury lodges at Caithness View each sleep up to six. What’s more, each lodge has its own private BBQ hut, allowing you to enjoy the best local Caithness meat, vegetables, and fish, cooked over coals.
Have you checked out The Caithness Collection yet? This trio of family run hotels in Wick, Castletown and Thurso are ideally placed to allow you to explore the two largest towns in the county, plus historic Castletown.
Or if you’re taking a few friends or family, and it’s more of a unique stay you fancy, why not book in to the Keepers Cottage at Dunnet Head Lighthouse. The 360 views can be enjoyed at any time of year from here, either in their outdoor seated area, or inside by the wood-burning stove.
Over to you
We hope we’ve whetted your appetite enough to tempt you north on the 40-minute flight from Aberdeen to Wick. Whether for an away-day, a mid-week break or a longer holiday, you can be assured of an exceptionally warm Caithness welcome, an incredible landscape, and a vast variety of things to see and do.
What are you waiting for? We hope to welcome you soon.