Settled by seafaring Norse raiders, later a booming fishing town, and now known for outrageous cold-water surf – make Thurso your home for the Year of Coast & Waters.
Highlight – The moment your toes experience the fresh north coast water…let us know how it feels with #DiscoverThurso
Pristine North Coast beaches deserve their place on even the busiest Scottish travel itineraries. Much of the Caithness and Sutherland coastline is abrasive, dramatic and intimidating, so these quiet pockets of immaculate golden sand and tropical looking green water are little havens.
Melvich and Strathy Beaches are ‘up west’ – Thurso folk associate trips west with fun, relaxation and adventure – you’ll soon see why.
Best to let the weather dictate your visit. Windy and chilly? Explore the rocky coastline guarding these beaches and savour a refreshing walk on the golden sand. Calm and warm? Find a patch of sand and make it your own between nourishing dips in the water – the far north was made for wild-swimming!
Highlight – Particularly in May, the blooming yellow gorse on the riverbank at the Salmon Pool – up-river from the foot bridges – offers a beautiful contrast to the dark peat character of the River Thurso.
Description of place – Follow the river that Norse explorers dedicated in name to the Viking god Thor as far inland as its sights and sounds entice you, spotting seals, otters, salmon and diverse bird life as you go. Along the riverside, local botanist Robert Dick discovered Holy Grass, a plant not previously known to have existed in Britain.
The river weaves it’s way inland to its origin at Loch More, providing fruitful salmon fishing along its 25 miles. Check the River Thurso website for more information about fishing licenses etc.
Highlight – The soothing sound of gently splashing waves is great, but the noise of epic surf smashing a flagstone reef is unforgettable.
Thurso East is many things – it’s Viking History, it’s a mindful beach-combing retreat and it’s a prime dark sky viewing site. Most famously, perhaps, the Caithness Flagstone reef at Thurso East is an arena for elite cold-water surfers.
Particularly over the winter, when a stream of deathly cold water from the River Thurso shaves a few more degrees off the water temperature, Thurso East can provide some of the finest right-hand reef break surf anywhere in Europe.
To appreciate the enormity of the surf, cross the river back to Thurso Harbour, seat yourself in one of the strategically placed stone benches built during the annual Northstone Stonefest, and watch on as intrepid thrill seekers are dwarfed by waves.
Thurso East is no place to dip your toes in surfing, but if you want an exhilarating North Coast surf experience, local experts North Coast Watersports can guide you to more forgiving beach breaks – check out their website below.
Highlight – When you first descend the staircase from Victoria Walk to the rocky shelf that leads you to Scrabster, there’s a swimming hole to your right known as the Rockwell that’s ideal for a cool splash when the tide is right. Study the rocky ledge bearing over the chilly water, you’ll see a couple of holes where there used to be a diving board to facilitate swimmers.
We like to give options, even though the weather or tides may dictate otherwise. At the beginning of Victoria Walk, choose between either cliff-top footpath that follows the coastline and throws up delicious views of Holborn Head, Dunnet Head and Orkney (on a clear day) along the route to Scrabster, or take the slow approach and carefully navigate the rocky obstacle course separating Thurso and Scrabster Beaches.
Fields of colourful ever-changing tide pools and patches of slick seaweed latch your focus onto your invigorating new surroundings. We recommend the cliff top footpath for those looking to absolutely guarantee dry feet!
Highlight – You could spend a whole day in Scrabster. Between exploring the beach, the lighthouse, Holborn Head, and the Polo Mint, there are some off-the-charts food options to keep you going. A wee café that serves breakfast, a traditional fisherman’s tavern with supremely good pub grub, a tapas restaurant in an old chapel, and the Captain’s Galley – a north coast seafood experience considered one of Scotland’s best. What more could you actually ask for!?
The busy working harbour village of Scrabster carries a distinct vibe – it feels like a get-away within your holiday. The coming-and-going of ferries and fishing boats guarantees something to catch your eye at any time of day, and attractive walking routes at either end of a village sunken into the sea cliffs around it invite the explorer within you.
Holburn Head lighthouse is an easy stroll along the coast – it’s idyllic and its setting is everything you’d imagine a Scottish lighthouse to be. Thurso is fairly removed from the rest of Scotland; Scrabster is removed from Thurso; and Holborn Head is one step further removed and more tranquil yet.
Alternatively, walk to the other end of the village and start up the hill as if you’re returning to Thurso, but take your first right. Eventually you’ll spot an ‘O’ shaped structure atop the hill, known affectionately as the Polo Mint.
The Polo was crafted from Caithness Flagstone in the 1990s and offers an iconic end-point to your Scrabster walk. It’s a quirky, photo-worthy monument and, what’s more, a nearby grassy-knoll is strongly believed to have been an Iron Age cairn or broch with Viking significance.
Some handy information to give you a real feel for Thurso during your stay - enjoy!