Make a grand loop of these Old Caithness sites, starting in Thurso in the morning, before heading to Dunbeath in search of the broch and onward from there.
We believe our surroundings are best discovered at a gentle pace. You might not reach all seven places in a day – Discover Caithness over a couple of days, or choose the places most intriguing to you.
Highlights – Dunbeath Heritage Centre brings context to a brilliant walk into the heart of Caithness history. Learn about Neil M. Gunn, one of the most influential Scottish writers of the twentieth century. Visit before or after your adventure to the broch to elevate your appreciation of the place to another level.
Discovering Thurso’s place in history is incomplete without visiting an Iron Age broch – mysterious circular stone towers, the remains of which dot the entire map of Caithness & Sutherland.
Like many points of interest near Thurso, getting to Dunbeath Broch rewards a thirst for exploration. Signage is scarce at present, but the broch is halfway up a lovely walk along the Dunbeath Water – a river originating in the beautiful Caithness Flow Country.
The village of Dunbeath itself is set in a particularly scenic corner of Caithness coastline, the river walk is utterly pleasant, and the broch is a fitting end point to a remarkable walk.
Visit the Caithness Broch Project for more information about these fascinating structures.
Highlights – The Pyramids of Giza are 2,600 years old: although partially rebuilt in modern times, Camster Cairns are at least 3,500 years old…
Among the best-preserved Chambered Cairns in Scotland, Camster Cairns are Neolithic tombs that were first built over 5000 years ago. The structures are a short walk from the road with a (sometimes slippery) wooden walkway facilitating access.
Their ghostly grey hue and location in the heart of Britain’s last wilderness combine for an atmospheric and almost spiritual experience. No descriptive text can do a site of such historic magnitude justice – you might see nothing like Camster Cairns on your trip.
Highlights – Though tricky to find and arduous to descend, the Whaligoe Steps reward you with views of both a waterfall and the North Sea, as well as a look into the heart of Caithness’s Maritime Heritage with a quality cafe to round your visit off. The epitome of a hard-to-find Caithness treasure.
Whaligoe can challenge even the most sure-footed. Over 300 stone steps cut into dramatic Caithness coastline showcase the country’s maritime heritage spectacularly. A careful descent leads you to a beautiful harbour sheltered from the often-turbulent North Sea by cliffs on either side.
At its peak, the idyllic port at Whaligoe served 24 fishing boats. As your legs begin to burn on your climbs back up the steps, imagine the struggle of carrying a weighty basket of herring up with you – just as resilient fisher-women did during the harbour’s operational years.
Highlight – Often, castle ruins are off limits – eye candy only. But Castle Sinclair Girnigoe invites you to look inside to get up close to a remarkable ancient building.
A literal window to the past, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe was built in the 1400s (though the strategic site may also hold Neolithic significance) and is a lasting shrine to the many layers of Caithness history.
The building’s original occupants used sheer cliff-side to fortify three sides of their castle – that helps us understand the ferocity of the struggle between the forces competing for influence in the strategically vital land of Caithness.
In 1999, the Clan Sinclair Trust formed and assumed control of the castle, committing to repair the damage that centuries of neglect and violent north coast weather conditions can inflict upon such a fragile structure. Thanks to their work, the castle is not only safely accessible, a number of interpretive boards now tell its story.
Highlight –Amble around the gardens for as long as you please, then sit down for a cup of tea in the cafe afterwards – feel like royalty.
As with the best Scottish castles, the Castle of Mey’s history was both bloody and tumultuous – changing hands between vengeful brothers before a period of stability saw the building extended in 1819 into the grand structure we see today.
It fell into disrepair until Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother purchased the castle in 1952, nurturing her cherished holiday-residence into an almost fairy-tale-like retreat adorned in spectacular gardens.
The Queen Mother visited for 3-weeks every August and 10-days every October each year – and her Grandson HRH The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, honours her commitment to Caithness, visiting himself every August.
Highlights – The nearby Flagstone Trail explores the heritage of the Caithness Flagstone Industry – see remnants of this vital industry in walls, roofs and buildings all over Thurso, as well as in brochs, cairns and castles across the county.
Not content with just showing you Caithness culture, Castlehill Heritage Centre brings it to life. Their series of workshops in traditional crafts that were once party of daily life in Caithness are wholly unique cultural experiences celebrating our area.
What’s more, the centre also has Dark Sky Discovery Site designation, meaning that it’s one of the most accessible and rewarding locations near Thurso for stargazing. Withness some of the UK’s darkest night skies just a few hundred yards from the North Coast 500.
Highlight – Viking relics such as inscribed stone Nordic Crosses and small rune stones have been found around Old St Peter’s Kirk – it’s truly a historical focal point in Thurso.
Officially, the Kirk celebrates its 800th birthday next year. However, investigation of the tower’s stonework indicates a date of around 1150 – and a rune inscribed Norse stone cross found buried near the Kirk suggests that there may have been a site of spiritual significance much earlier than that!
Old St. Peter’s Kirk was fitted with ‘jougs’ – a punitive device comprised of iron collars that were fastened around the neck of the accused and chained to a wall, keeping them upright for hours or days on end. The Kirk was also the place of trial for the Scrabster Witches in the early 1700s.
Can you believe the stunning south tracery window is allegedly carved from one single piece of stone?
Old St. Peter’s Kirk finally closed in December 1832—in January 1833 its replacement, St Peter’s and St. Andrew’s in the town square opened.
Some handy information to give you a real feel for Thurso during your stay - enjoy!