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of a castle built by a Countess of
Sutherland about the year 1488.

The rly. from Helmsdale to
Thurso, 53 m., or to Wick, 59 m.,
was opened 1873. The Duke of
Sutherland contributed about half
the cost of making it.

To avoid the almost insurmount-
able obstacle of the Ord of Caithness
(Fite. 70) the line turns inland \\\^
Strath Helmsdale (or Ullie), follow-
ing a very circuitous course.

About 12 m. from the sea, near
9^ m. Kildonan Stat., a burn falls
into the river, on whose banks some
particles of gold were found, 1869,
which led to temporary diggings.
Several small nuggets were turned up,
but the supply was soon exhausted.

]9 m. Kinbrace Stat.

Forsinard Stat. , New Inn. There
is no interest in the country traversed,
which consists of moss and moor.

At a height of 700 ft. above the
sea the line enters Caithness.

324 m. Altnabreach Stat.

41 m. Scotscalder Stat.

44 m. Halkirk Stat., a village on
the Thurso, one of the best fishing
rivers in the North.

There are good fishing quarters
near this, at

Brawl Castle, an old feudal Tower
3 storeys high, with more modern
buildings attached to each ; it has
been fitted up as a hotel and board-
ing-house by Mr. Dunbar, for sports-


Route QO.— Thurso; The CletL

Sect. VII.

men and anglers, avIio, on payment
of about £20 per month, are boarded
and enjoy rights of rod-fishing in the
Thurso and some of the neighbour-
ing lochs. The angler is allowed to
keejJ his first fish, and, if he catch
as many, his sixth fish,

45 m. Georgenias Junct. Stat. The
line hence to Wick is described be-

The line to Thurso descends the
course of the Thurso due N., at a
considerable elevation, commanding
magnificent vievrs of the sea, town,
and clifi's on nearing

Thurso Terminus.

Thurso {Inn: Royal Hotel ; Pop.
3600), jjleasantly situated on the
banks of the Thurso river as it enters
Scrabster Bay, can boast of consider-
ably greater cleanliness and anti-
quity than Wick. It was formerly
the chief place of trade between
Scotland and the Scandinavian
kingdom, from which, indeed, it
derives its name, — Thor's town, and
in the 1-ith centy. was of such im-
portance that the weights and mea-
sures of Thurso were adopted for the
whole country. At ])resent the chief
industry is bestowed upon the cutting
and splitting of paving stones, the
produce of Caithness flag-quarries,
of which some 40,000 tons are yearly
exported. It fui-nishes pavement to
some of the streets of Paris. In the
old town may be seen the ruins of
the ancient Church of st. Peter. In
tlie handsome modern Gothic To^cn
Hall is a Museum, containing the
remarkable collection of plants and
coral fossils bequeathed by the late
Mr. Dick. Opposite the church is a
statue by Cliantrey of Sir John Sin-
clair, famed for agriculture and lon-
gevity. About 1 m. to the N. W. are
the scanty ruins of the old Bishop's
Palace, where, in the 12th cent., John
Bishop of Caithness was put to death.
To the E. is Thurso Castle, the seat
of Sir J. G. Tollem ache Sinclair, Bt.,
M.P., nearly rebuilt 1874. N. E. of the

town, a modern Toiccr, now the
burial-jjlace of the Sinclair family,
marks the site of that of Earl Harold,
who fell here in battle 1190. Thui-so
Bay, otherwise known as Scrabster
Roads, is an open roadstead flanked
by the headlands of Disarrick and
Holburn, where the cliff" scenery is
very fine.

There is a good sandy beach for
bathers, and bathing-machines.

The distant sea-cliifs of Hoy, in
Orkney, are an interesting oliject in
the sea view, esi)ecially from *IIol-
burn Head (2^ m. N.), which ought
to be visited. As the spectator peers
over the precipice he may think of the
fate of Captain Slater, who, in a fit
of mental aberration, madly spurred
his horse to the edge, but the animal,
shying in terror on the ver)^ verge,
threw over his rider and escaped,
leaving the dents of his hoofs in the
sward. An obelisk marks the spot.

" A short distance from Holburn
Head, a tower-like detached mass of
the flagstone rock (called the Clett)
rises vertically from the sea to the
height of about 150 ft., and during
the breeding season is covered with
sea birds. Between this isolated rock
and the land a terrific sea rages,
violently plunging into the gloomy
caves with perpetual thunder-like
roai", and sending clouds of spray
high into the air, which stream
down the cliffs in multitudinous
waterfalls." The geologist will find
in the cliff's of Scrabster Bay a fine
example of the Caithness flags, one
of the divisions of the old red sand-
stone system peculiar to the north of
Scotland. These rocks were, by the
labours of Robert Dick, a baker of
Thurso, discovered to be profusely
charged with the fossil remains of
the Holoptychius, which occur
by thousands. The best place for
the fossil hunter is on the E. side of
the bay, near Thurso Castle. The
valuable museums of Mr. Peach and


Route 60.—JFicL


Dr. Sinclair are thrown open to the
inspection of geologists.

The farm-house on the site of
Scrahstcr Castle belongs to the
Crown. Hence ' ' Laird of Scrabster "
is a title locally given to the Sove-
reign of Great Britain.

The Thurso river is a good fish-
ing stream from February to the
middle of May, the fish running from
6 to 25 lbs. It is generally let for the
season, together with Brawl Castle.

Mail Cars to Tongue and to Lairg.

Distances — Jolin-o' -Groat's House,
20 m., see Rte. 71 ; Wick, 20; Dun-
net, 6 ; Mey, 11 ; Huna, 17 ; Melvich,
18 ; Tongue, 44.

Mail Steamer from Scrabster j)ier
daily to Strom ness, whence car to
Kirkwall, capital of the Orkneys
{see Rte. 74).

SteaDiers — From Edinburgh and

Railway to Wick.

Quitting the Georgemas Junct.
Stat, near Halkirk, the rly. ju-o-
ceeds E., leaving on 1. Loch Scarm-
clete, near Bower Stat.

Watteu Stat., close to Loch
Watten, 5 m, long by 24 wide,
abounding in trout and good fishing.
Out of it Hows the Wick river.

Bilbster Stat., rt., Stirkoke House.
The country exhibits signs of great
agricultural improvement.

60 m. Wick Terminus.

Wick. Inns : New Hotel ; Cale-
donian ; Wellington (from Viig,
Korw. a Bay), a Royal and Parly.
Burgh. Pop. 8131, increased dur-
ing the fishing season to 14,000,
is the capital of Caithness, standing
at the head of a small bay on the
N. side of Wick Water. It is the
head-quarters of the hemng-fishery.
It has a promising appearance to
those who enter it from the S., for
the houses being all built of grey
stone, the town looks both clean and
venerable ; but on a nearer inspec-
tion it is found to be a very nasty

place, with dirty narrow lanes, and
an everlasting smell of tar and
herrings. The best and most whole-
some portion is Pulteneytown, the
business and commercial quarter,
which stands high on the S. side of
Wick Water. This quarter was
built in 1808 by the British Fisheries
Society, and derives its name from
Sir William Pulteney, sometime
president of that body.

The harbour was formed by Tel-
ford, at a cost of about £12,000,
of which £8500 was granted from
the balance of forfeited estates.
£130,000 have been spent in vain
attempts to protect the harbour by
the erection of a Brcakioatcr formed
of blocks of concrete. The storms
of the winter of 1872 seriously dam-
aged the works, displacing blocks of
1000 tons weight, and it is doubtful
whether the harbour can ever be made
a secure anchorage. Steamers lie off
to take in and let out passengers in

The Hcrring-fislicry season begins
about the middle of July, and ends
in the middle of September. The
total number of Wick boats
amounts to about 900, or nearly
one-fifth of the whole number em-
ployed in Scotland. The number
of fish varies according to the season,
reaching its maximum in 1855 of
135,000 crans. Each cran contains
from 600 to 700 herrings, weighing
about 235 lbs. ; and the annual aver-
age value of the herrings cured at
Wick is £139,000. "The harbour
is surrounded on the land side by
hundreds of erections, looking like
abortive attempts at building wood
houses, some 20 ft. square, for the
walls are only 3 ft. high. These are
the gutting-troughs. Round them
stand rows of what close inspection
leads you to suppose are women,
though at first sight you might be
excused for having some doubts re-
specting their sex. They all wear
strange-shaped canvas garments, so


Boutes G9, JFicL— 70, Helmsdale to TFick. Sect. VII.

bespattered with blood and the
entrails and scales of fish, as to cause
them to resemble animals of the
ichthyological kingdom recently di-
vested of their skins. The herrings
are carried as fast as possible in
baskets from the boats to the gutting-
tronghs, where the women, familiarly
called gutters, pounce upon them
like a bird of prey, and with a rapi-
dity of motion which baffles your
eye, deprive the fish of its viscera."
— JVeld. On an average they gut
26 herrings per minute.

There are several old ruined castles
in the vicinity of AVick which de-
serve a visit, although their history
is excessively meagre.

Old Wick Castle, or the " Old Man
of Wick," 1 m. to the S., and be-
longed in the beginning of the 14th
centy. to Sir Keginald de Cheyne, it is
a primitive square tower without win-
dow or other opening, and must be
as old as the 12th centy.

A little farther S. a tall stalk rising
out of the sea is joined to the main-
land by a natural bridge of rock.

Ackergill Tower, 1\ m. to the IST.
(Sir George Dunbar of Hempriggs,
Bart.), is an old Tower restored,
and added to in modern times.
It is 65 ft. high, and has square
turrets at the angles. Its appearance
from the sea is imposing, but on the
land side it is rather tame. Is^ear it
is Castle Girnigo, which in 1623,
when it was repaired, took the name
of Castle Sinclair. Of the older
masonry, still called Girnigo, there
are left the tower, 50 ft. high, and
some chambers ; but of Sinclair, the
modern, scarcely anything but some
vaults. This place has been the
witness of many a deed of cruelty
and rascality. In 1570 the Earl of
Caithness imprisoned his eldest son
for 7 years, and then (as is believed)
starved him to death. In 1672 the
earl sold the earldom and estates to
Lord Glenorchy, George Sinclair of
Keiss disputing the sale. Glenorchy

invaded Caithness in 1680 at the
head of 500 Campbells, and found a
large force of the Caithness men
under Sinclair strongly posted on the
Ord. Glenorchy loaded a vessel vdi\
whisky, and ordered the crew to run
themselves ashore, wrecking the
ship close to the enemy. They did
so, themselves escaping to the in-
vaders, and the Sinclairs, having
made themselves drunk with the
cargo, were attacked and routed by
the Campbells, who then laid siege
to Castle Girnigo.

Notwithstanding his victory, Lord
Glenorchy did not gain the earldom,
but received as compensation the
barony of Wick, which title still re-
mains in Lord Breadalbane's family.

Harland Hill, 3 m. from Wick,
though only 200 ft. high, commands
a most extensive vieiv, sea and land-

Distances of Wick from— Thurso,
20 m. ; Golspie, 55 ; Latheron, 17 ;
Helmsdale, 37 ; Huna, 17 j John-
o'-Groat's House, 18^; Keiss, 7^ ;
Brawl, 154 ; Halkirk, 15.

FMilway to Thurso and Helmsdale ;
steamers from Edinburgh and Aber-
deen to Thurso call here, or at Staxi-
goe (2 m.) if the weather is not


Helmsdale to "Wick, by the Ord
of Caithness— Old Road, 39 m.

Immediately on leaving Helmsdale
the road ascends a long hill, wanding
round ravine after ravine. On the
rt. an older road may still be traced
at some distance beneath. At the
height of 1200 ft. the traveller
reaches a mountain plateau, which
ends E., towards the sea, in the bold
rocky promontory called the Ord of
Caithness, the end of a bleak moun-


rioutc 70. — Ldheron.


tain range separating Caithness from
Sutherland, commanding a fine view
seaward. By the roadside will be
observed the black posts which direct
the driver when the gi'ound is covered
with snow. It is considered unlucky
for a Sinclair to cross the Ord on a
Monday, because on that day a large
party of the clan passed it on their
way to riodden, whence they never
returned. The level gi'ound lasts for
9 m., at the end of which the road
descends abruptly to

94 m. Berriedale Inn. At the
commencement of this hill the ti-a-
veller is surprised and delighted with
the sight of two little valleys, Lang-
well and Berriedale, both of which
are closely wooded, a rare sight in
this county. Each is watered by a
small stream, which unite close to
the inn, and fall into the sea to-
gether. In the first of these valleys
stands Langiaell, purchased in 1857
as a shooting-lodge by the Duke of
Portland, vdih 81,600 acres, partly
converted into a deer forest. Be-
yond the ridge which separates the
valleys is Berriedale, not so pretty as
Langwell, because it stands on the
shady side of the hill. Upon a rock,
nearly surrounded by water, stand the
ruins oi Berriedale Castle, an old fort-
ress of the Earls of Caithness, from
which the eldest son of that family
derives his title. Some 4 or 5 m. to
the W. of Berriedale are seen 1. the
Morven and Scarahhein mountains,
which rise to upwards of 2000 ft.

Again a long hill is ascended,
commanding extensive views to the
summit of that flat, bare, treeless
table-land, which is the main feature
of the county of Caithness. Far in
the distance to the 1. is a low range
of mountains, above which rise 2 or
3 peaks known by the name of the
^^ Paps of Caithness." These are,
properly speaking, the only moun-
tains in the county. The population
is derived principally from Scandi-
navian sources, and bears marks of its

origin not only in features but
names. N'o Gaelic has ever been
spoken in Caithness.

16 m. Diinheath \allage and castle
(]\Irs. Thomson Sinclair), on the sea-
shore, an estate of bl,7b'i acres.
Dunbeath "Water is a stream of some
size, but, o^^^^ng to neglect and other
causes, has become destitute of fish.

20 m, Latheron Kirk and Inn,
clean and comfortable. In front
of the village is an upright slab,
and near it is an old tower in which
the bells of the ch. formerly hung.
[From Latheron a road runs due N.
to Thurso, 22 m., joining at Halkirk
the old mail road between Wick
and Thurso (Rte. 70). Near the Inn
of Achavanich, 64 m., is a Circle of
Old Stones, overlooking the waters
of Loch Stemster.]

Passing Sioingie village (pron.
Swinsey or Sweyn's village), which
has an upright stone, the tour-
ist reaches the village of Lyhster,
one of the seats of the herring-
fishery. It possesses the only oM
Church in Caithness. It is very
small and without windows ; door
and chancel arch are formed by a
slab lintel ; date quite uncertain
(? 12th centy.) To Lybster succeeds
a long barren country, covered chiefly
with j^eat, and varied by occasional
patches of cultivation.

■33| m., on 1., is Hempriggs Loch,
and on rt. is Hemijriggs Castle (Sir
George Dunbar), well situated, with
fairly Avooded gi'ounds. Near this,
the eye stretching N. discerns the
promontory of Duncansbay Head,
the distant Orkneys, and the lofty
clifl's of Hoy. Passing rt. the
"Old Man of Wick," the small
remains of the ancient castle, the
traveller reaches, through the suburb
of Pulteneytown, the fishing town of

Wick. {Inns: Caledonian, Wel-
lington.) (Rte. 69.)

438 'Route 11.— Wick to TJmrso : JoIm-o'-Groafs. Sect. VII.


"Wick to Thurso, by Huna and
John-o'-Groat's House.

Coach daily in Slimmer from Wick
to John-o'-Gh^oat's.

The tourist must take the northern
road from Wick, which jiasses along
the shore of Sinclair Bay, and
through a district which in former
days was the scene of much barbar-
ity and quarrelling. The 4 principal
families who have possessed it, or
fought for it, were the Sinclairs,
Sutherlands, Keiths, and Gunns ;
and of them there is an old rhyme —

"Sinclair, Sutherland, Keith, and Clan
There never was peace when they four
were on."

The last was finally exterminated as
a clan, and was broken uj) into
smaller families, dependent on the
larger clans. 3 m. road on rt. to
Ackergill Tower (Rte. 69).

6 m. Wester Water, crossed by a
high-backed, old-fashioned bridge of
2 arches.

7^ m. A wide, open, and barren
moor is succeeded by the village of
Keiss. The castle (Kenneth ]\I 'Leay,
Esq.) stands on a rock jutting out
into the sea. Of the lower storey the
vaulted roof and 3 storeys are left.
Near it is the modern house, attached
to a tower bearing the date of 1757
upon it.

A number of mounds on the coast
at Keiss have been the subject of
exploration by Mr. Laing, who dis-
covered many kists enclosing skele-
tons, urns, pottery, etc. ; and he
considers that this district was the
burial-place of the surrounding popu-
lation. The "Harbour mound" ex-
hibited traces of buildings which Mr.
Laing believes to be identical with
the "burgh " or circular tower,

12 m. the road passes rt. Fresh-
wick Bay, and crosses Freshwick
Water, Freshwick Castle, built in
1155, belonged to the Mowats,

17 m, Huna Inn, a poor little
place, [There is a path along the
cliffs to John-o'-Groafs Rouse, 1^ m,,
and on to Duncansby Head,

Of this famous house, once the
most northerly habitation of Great
Britain, nothing is left but a turf-
covered mound, under which there
may be the foundations of a cottage,
long ago removed. The story is that
John-o'-Groat was the descendant of
one De Groot, a Dutchman, who, in
the reign of James IV,, settled in
these parts. Every j^ear John and 7
cousins used to assemble for the pur-
pose of celebrating the memory of
their ancestor, A dispute, however,
arose as to who should be president
on the occasion, and sit at the head
of the table. On each occasion this
unseasonable contention disturbed
the harmony of the evening, John-
o'-Groat, the senior, settled the dis-
i:»ute by building an octagon house,
furnished with an octagon table and
8 doors, so that each man entered at
his own door and sat at the head of
the table.

The story may admit of this ex-
planation — John-o'-Groat rented the
ferry to Orkney, and to shelter his
clients while waiting on the shore for
the boat, built a round house with 8
radiating screens or divisions adapted
to shelter wayfarers from the storm
whichever way the wind might
blow, Near this, in 1 650, the Marquis
of JNIontrose landed with a forlorn
hope of 2000 men, chiefly raised in
Orkney, to redeem the cause of his
king. He met with no support, and
marching S, was soon defeated.

14 m, farther E, is Duncanshay
Head, the N.E. promontory of Scot-
land, Vervedrum Prom, Ptolemy,
from whence a fine view is ob-
tained of the Orkneys, the Sker-
ries, the open sea in front, and the
projecting headlands of the E. coast.
In a bay, a little to S., are the Stacks
of Duncanshay, 3 pointed and insulat-
ed rocks, like obelisks, with precipi-

Caithness. Bs. 71, Penthnd Firth. — 71a. Lairg to Tcngne. 439

tous sides, rising stately out of the sea.
Between these Stacks and the coast
a tremendous sea runs, known by the
name of the Bears of Duncansliay, from
the size and fierceness of the waves.
The Avhole coast, wdiich is composed
of old red sandstone, is very precipi-
tous, and is indented by deep gullies,
known locally as "goes," irom the
Scandinavian " geo, " an inlet. One
of them is particularly striking, and
is bridged over by a natural arch.]

I 18 m. The road going westward

passes the Established Kirk, and at
21. m. reaches Barrogill Castle
(Earl of Caithness), occupying a con-
spicuous position, from the absence
of any enclosed park, in an estate
of 14,463 acres. Round the house
some bushes have been coaxed to
form a sort of drive. The castle con-
sists of a square tower, with heavy
battlemented turrets at the angles
and in the centre, and a lower build-
ing of 4 storeys attached to it, also
turreted at the corners. It is pro-
bably not older than the 17th cent.

' 2.3 m. SccLTskerry, a long straggling

ft ' village, at the end of which is a
steam factor}', belonging to Lord
Caithness, for fashioning paving-
stones out of the flags of the district.
Between Stroma and the shore, off St.
John's Point, a line of breakers marks
the deadly reef of rocks called the
"Merry Men of Mey." When the
ebb tide meets a W. wind the sur-
face is ruffled and covered with foam,
though all around is still and clear.
Just beyond the point is the little
village of Mcy. Beyond this is an
eminence upon which stands a small
cross, put up to replace a cairn re-
moved some years ago.

Passl. Ratter House (T. Traill,Esq.)

28 m. Dunnet village and loch.
About 3 m. to the N. is Dunnet Head,
a rock of red sandstone surmounted by
a lighthouse, and the most northerly
point of the mainland of Great Britain,

The great tidal wave, rushing E.
from the Atlantic, round the N. of Scot-

land into the German Ocean, through
the Pcntland Firth, renders the
navigation of the latter dangerous
owing to its tremendous and arbitrary
currents. These do not run in one
even flow, but in well defined streams,
at the rate of 8 or 9 knots, forming
the well-known Roosts or Races. The
Isle of Swona, set in the full brunt of
one of these currents, causes by its
opposition a Avhirlpool called the
"Well of Swona, "dangerous to sailing
vessels, which are liable to be caught,
and twisted round and round into
its vortex, and have often difficulty
in extricating themselves. At spring
tides the flood runs at the rate of 10 m.
an hour, but the currents vary in dif-
ferent parts of the channel according
to the state of the tide. The natives,
well acquainted with the nature and
direction of these currents, take ad-
vantage of them to carry them from
one harbour to another. To a stranger
they are incomprehensible and very

At Dunnet Kirk the sands may be
crossed to Castleton, a village of con-
siderable size, consisting of one long
street, and possessing quarries of a
slatey stone (Caithness flags), used
for paving, which are prepared by
steam-power. The works were estab-
lished by Mr. Traill of Ratter, 1824.
To this the village is indebted for its
prosperity. The road, just before it
joins that to "Wick, passes through
the shrubberies of Castle Hill (J.
Traill, Esq.).

Passing the village of Murkle,
Ulbster Castle, and Harold's Tomb,
we reach

34 m. Thurso {Hotel. ■T^.oyii\). (Rte.

Lairg to Tongue.

3fail Car, 3 times a week in sum-
mer, takes 5 or 6 passengers for
Lairg {see Rte. 65).

21 m. Altnaharra. 1 m. W. of Loch
Naver (Rte. 72.) Itm, very good.


Iioutel\K. — Tongue; Tongue House. Sect. VII.

19 m. Tongue (Mrs. Monro's Inn,
quite perfect), a charming place,
with beautiful sea-views and grand
outline of the 4-headed Ben Loyal or
Laoghal in sight.

Tongue House, formerly the resi-
dence of the Lords Reay, now of the
D. of Sutherland, is beautifully situ-
ated at the foot of a lofty mountain
upon the E. side of a narrow arm of
the sea known as the Kyle of Tongue.
The house is irregularly built, and
has no architectural beauty, but the
plantations which surround it are
as ornamental as they are necessary,
and under this protection the gar-
dens flourish with a success scarcely
to be expected in so high and stormy
a latitude. On an eminence near the
sea, a little beyond the house, are the
remains of Castle Varich, consisting
of 2 storeys enclosed by massive walls.
"Seen from its crumbling battle-
ments, buttressed against the tem-
pestuous North Sea by a chain of
rocky islands, constituting a great
natural breakwater, Ben Laoghal (or
Loyal) with its magnificent preci-
pices, well merits the title of the
Queen of the Sutherland mountains.
This noble mass occupies the centre
of the great mountain amphitheatre,
and rises in a series of precipices to
the height of 2505 ft, terminating
in 4 colossal splintered peaks, like
gigantic cathedral spires. It is an
eruptive rock, and throws off" the
upper gneiss. To the W. is Ben
Hope, a grand dome-shaped mass,
rising to the height of 3040 ft., and
contrasting in stern sublimity with
the battlemented precipices of Ben
Laoghal. " — Weld.

It is a pleasant drive or Avalk to
Loch Laoghal at the back of Ben

Tongue is distant from Altna-
harra, 19 m. ; Melvich, 26 ; Lairg,
40 ; Durness, 24 ; Smoo Caves, 2 ;
Eriboll, 9^.

Thurso to Tongue.

Thurso described Eoute 69.

A Mail Car 5 times a week between

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