We recently chatted about world class surf happening right under our noses.
It’s the duty of the Thurso Experience to make sure that everything worthwhile that’s going on in-and-around Thurso is very much above-nose, so to speak.
If you were in an idyllic, rural place like Caithness and there was an event on celebrating the area’s agricultural heritage in one of the most beautiful corners of the county, offering you a unique chance to experience a working sheep farm, you’d want to know about it wouldn’t you?
The Highland Sheep Event 2019 being hosted by the Sutherland Family at Sibmister Farms – just 4 miles from Thurso – ticks all of the best travel boxes: it’s off the beaten path, it’ll immerse you in Caithnessian culture, it’s what the locals will be doing, it’s a celebration of small businesses, it’s not like anything that goes on back home, and it could be along time before another event like it comes to the area.
It’s happening on Wednesday June 12th from 9-5pm and will feature 75 commercial and educational stands – 20 of which are local exhibitors of various exciting descriptions; as well as being a celebration of the Highlands, this year’s Sheep Event will showcase the best of Caithness.
Is there a more appropriate celebration of Caithness imaginable? Farming is the fabric of life for many who call the far north home, something that must be glaringly apparent to even the briefest visitors had they not already known it. Historically, Caithnessian expats were able to build new lives – and reputations – in the likes of Canada, the United States, Argentina and New Zealand based on a prowess for farming in harsh conditions. Many of you arriving in Thurso to reconnect with your ancestral home will be well aware of the agricultural heritage surrounding the town.
One of the best things about Thurso is just how quickly you can reach a stunning landscape whichever direction you travel. Our surroundings are flat relative to the rest of the Scottish Highlands, but Sibmister, due south-east of the town, is a fair climb uphill, and is wholly worth it when you get there.
The sights – sweeping green fields roughly lined with yellow gorse and grey flagstone walls. The sounds – generally at least a breeze, a variety of bird activity, and farm animals of course. The smells – a fresh combination of sea breeze and surrounding farmland. Beautiful stuff that’s very typical of Caithness, but up at Sibmister it also comes with an astounding panoramic view of the county.
An event dedicated to this industry, in this stunning landscape seems too good to be true. So we climbed the hill to catch Fiona Sinclair of Sibmister Farms and Braeside Retreats, to learn more about both the event and her family’s country lifestyle.
How did the Highland Sheep Event end up at Sibmister this year?
This will be the fourth biennial Highland Sheep event since the first in 2013 with the idea being to showcase sheep and sheep farming. We were approached by the past Highland Sheep Chairman to host this year’s event as the committee felt we were an ideal business to promote sheep farming in Caithness.
It seems like a pretty big deal, what should people expect from the event?
It’s a unique opportunity to tour our commercial sheep and beef enterprises, and to experience farming practices and systems while taking in breath-taking views of the Pentland Firth and Orkney.
A tractor and trailer will leave every half hour to tour near-by fields. There will be trade stands, a local Farmers Market and craft area, educational exhibits, practical working demonstrations, competitions including sheep dog trials, seminars and a focus on grassland management too. A particular highlight should be the “ask the farmer” question and answer session, and the day ends with a sale of Ewe Hoggs!
What’s the best aspect to farming life in Caithness?
Farming in Caithness is unique because we are all bound together by the challenges of farming in the Far North. The weather can be a trial at times, and the distance travelled to marts, buying and selling, and to shows can be a burden. But we’re an incredibly tight knit community and everyone works together where possible with neighbouring farms helping each other out. It inspires real friendship and a great social scene; this support keeps us going.
You must find yourself in some pretty wild weather up there on the hill…any particularly challenging occasions spring to mind?
Being at Sibmister gives us amazing views and on a great day of weather, there is nowhere better. But in the driving North winds and with snow, winters can be challenging. We have been left without power many times and when water troughs freeze and pipes burst it can be difficult, we have had to bring in tanks of water for thirsty cows in the worst winters. But this is all part of the joys of farming.
Between hosting the event and running Braeside Retreats you could hardly be more involved with visitors to the area, what’s unique about Caithness’s offering to visitors?
Caithness has the most amazing vistas, with these huge skies that stretch on forever. You can see almost from one side of the county to the other, and from the top of our hill you can see from Scrabster all the way round the coast to Dunnet Bay and on to Dunnet Head. Once you’re here, there’s so much to do locally with brilliant local produce to try, places to eat, and to visit. The future for tourism in Caithness is incredibly bright, new and exciting businesses are popping up everywhere and our guests are loving their time with us – many plan to return!
Describe Caithness in 3 words…
Beautiful, traditional, friendly
What’s an absolute ‘must see’ for visitors to the area?
I urge visitors to get outdoors as much as possible. The sea air is invigorating, and it helps you make the most of the views and scenery. My ideal spot is a trek over the hill at Dwarwick Pier to end up at Peedie Sands. It is such a peaceful, private white-sand beach, it’s the ultimate place to unwind.
Cumulitive list of ‘must sees’ in the area:
The Sutherland Family also run Braeside Retreats – Bespoke Luxury Pods from where they love to recommend local adventures and activities. Check out their Insider Knowledge Blog here.
Some handy information to give you a real feel for Thurso during your stay - enjoy!