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Seemingly on the very edge of Europe, Caithness stretches far into the North of Scotland, where miles of untouched, pristine wild landscape awaits.
Seemingly on the very edge of Europe, Caithness stretches far into the North of Scotland, where miles of untouched, pristine wild landscape awaits. Here, you’ll find John O’ Groats, the most northerly point of the UK mainland. For true escapism, Caithness awaits with the last sites of completely intact natural space in the country. Made up of just two towns and a selection of villages and hamlets, Caithness is the most northerly part of mainland Britain, marked by the iconic white sign at John O Groats. Connected to Lands End in Cornwall, it’s the furthest distance from the most southerly point of the island. The region covers a significant part of the NC500, one of the most popular long walking trails in the UK, tackled by thousands of people each year.
Caithness is also home to numerous prehistoric sites dating back to the Neolithic era. Caithness also has a number of significant landmarks. In the town of Wick, one of two major towns in the county, holds the Guinness World Record for the Smallest Street in the World and is home to the internationally renowned Caithness Glass, who long produced the trophy for the BBC TV programme Mastermind and was given a Royal Warrant by the Queen Mother in the 1960s.
Facing out towards the Atlantic Ocean, the history of Caithness stretches back to the Neolithic era. Indeed, the region is one of Scotland’s richest in pre-history, with a number of preserved landmarks a physical reminder of the complex rituals and lifestyles the people of the Stone Age had. Beginning as a Pictish settlement, it was invaded by the Norse – who gave many of the villages and landmarks their distinctive names. The Norse and the Scottish fought for control of the region for years until the signing of the Treaty of Perth in 1266 which fully incorporated it into the Kingdom of Scotland.
Throughout the Middle Ages, control of Caithness passed between a handful of Scottish nobles, until the land was sold back to those who had farmed and lived on it for decades. It was in the 18th century that the region really began to grow. Taking full advantage of their closeness to the water and swathes of rural land, Caithness became a stronghold in agriculture and the herring fishing industry throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, before diversifying into the 20th century with tourism, nuclear power and research and the creation of the world-famous Caithness Glass, which was given the Royal Warrant in 1968.
By rail, the Far North Railway Line connects Wick and Thurso, the two major towns. Both towns also offer ferry services towards Orkney and the Shetlands. Stagecoach also provides cross-county bus services, as well as connections to Inverness. The roads are steady, served mainly by the A9 and A99.
Caithness is served by Wick John O’Groats Airport, which offers regional flights from Aberdeen Airport. Train services are offered from Inverness that connect to both Wick and Thurso. The A9 road connects Caithness to Inverness and Scotland’s central belt.
When to go
Because it’s so far north, Caithness can get very cold, so unless you can brave the temperature, it’s best to avoid it during the winter. May to September is the most popular time to visit, where you can enjoy the beautiful beaches and replicate the summer country retreat enjoyed by members of the Royal Family.
Where to stay
Caithness has two major towns – Thurso and Wick, which offer a variety of accommodation options. There are several smaller villages throughout the county, especially around the coastline, with more options to stay, including John O’Groats, Castletown and Reay.
Eating & drinking
Because of its closeness to the ocean and abundance of lochs, seafood is a must-try in Caithness, particularly salmon and trout. The dishes are generally modern and traditional Scottish fare, with some diversity in the towns. You’ll also want to try Pulteney single malt whisky from the distillery in Wick.
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