John O’Groats

It was a wild night in Thurso last night and I was woken on a couple occasions by the noise of the wind. We had gusts over 80 km per hour and it was quite violent.

We had booked a one-day ferry ride and bus tour to the Orkney Islands today and were rather uncomfortable about the idea of making the crossing in gale force winds. In the end, our decision was made for us, as when we called the ferry company, the told us that they had cancelled today’s sailing and refunded our money.

That meant that we had to come up with another plan for the day. We decided instead, to visit some of the local sights that we would not have otherwise seen.

We began by driving around to John O’Groats which we thought that we had to see as it is at the top end of Britain. We were almost blown off our feet as we walked across the large car park to visit some of the tourist shops. We can’t believe just how extensive an array of junk that some of these shops stocked. One must have had nearly sixty varieties of tea towel (something that must be still widely used in British kitchens). We could see the cancelled ferry safely moored behind the protective harbor wall. It certainly wasn’t going anywhere today.


One of the people in a shop told us where we might be able to see puffins nesting. We decided to brave the winds and go in search of this interesting bird at Duncansby Head. Barely able to open the car doors because of the wind, we walked across some very boggy ground to a deep ravine that the sea entered. We couldn’t see any puffins, just Kittyakes (a variety of gull) perched precariously on the vertical cliffs and sheltering from the wind.


A few hundred meters along, we were able to get a good view of some sea rocks called the Duncansby Stacks. It seemed very hazy this morning and we wondered whether It was caused by ash from the Icelandic volcano that is currently erupting. After a heavy shower of rain however, the haze disappeared and it was quite clear.


We decided to spend some time at the Mey Castle and its gardens. This castle was in a semi-derelict state when, in 1952, it and its surrounding grounds were purchased by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. She set about restoring the castle for use as a holiday home, removing some of the 19th-century additions, and reinstating the Castle’s original name. She regularly visited it in August and October from 1955 until her death in March 2002. It is now open to the public other than the times at the end of July and the beginning of August, when Charles and his Missus spend some time there. Our visit included a look at the interior of the castle and we were able to see the Drawing Room, Library, Bedrooms, Dining Room and Kitchen. While it clearly had an aura of being a noble place, it also appeared to have a sense of simplicity, rather than ostentatiousness. The castle also had an extensive walled garden that provided flowers and vegetables.


We even found the little historic church in the village of Canisbay, where the Queen Mother went to church.


After lunch, we continued on to Dunnet Head which is really the most northerly point in the mainland UK (as distinct from John O’Groats).. The wind on this isolated point was so strong that we could again hardly open the car doors. It was all we could do to stay on our feet long enough to take a photo of the lighthouse. We gave away any additional ideas of looking further for puffins.


At the end of the day, we stopped in the town of Thurso to see if we could find an alternative place for dinner. Apart from Omeo, this must be the must be the most boring town that I have ever visited. All the buildings (some, even quite grand) are made from dark grey/brown Scottish stone and look very bland. There is no colour anywhere and the streetscapes give a feeling of pious austerity. The photo below shows the mid afternoon crowds in the main street!



Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

One thought on “John O’Groats”

  1. Now you been to the top, all down hill from here:). The policeman in Thurso don’t like you parking in front of his place either. Hope the volcanic dust doesn’t interfere with your plans. The news says they are all more prepared this time. Safe travelling x

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