For anyone not familiar with northernmost Scotland, it could come as a surprise that the area has been compared to Hawaii. Not because visitors are greeted with wreaths of flowers, but because of the power of the waves that come rolling in from the stretch of sea that separates Scotland and the Orkney Islands: the Pentland Firth.
Such is the character of the waves here that surfing is a popular pastime among the locals. Competitions held at Thurso East, one of the beaches in the region, have attracted some of the best surfers in the world.
Thurso is the northernmost town on the British mainland, and the second largest town in the Scottish Highlands. It is situated within walking distance from Scrabster, which is where visiting cruise ships dock.
Most passengers on board calling cruise ships probably come with the intention of visiting the most northerly part of the Scottish Highlands – an almost iconic area that can conjure up many images. Kilts and clans; history and heritage; and natural beauty and wildlife are some of the things that may spring to mind.
This is a region of the world that cannot be compared to anywhere else, because it is so unique. The grandiose scenery includes not only towering mountains, but also fascinating lochs and sandy beaches.
Scrabster and the surrounding region have been on the map for visitors for a long time – for different reasons. Norse settlers saw an advantage in Thurso’s strategic position, developing the town into a main port. After the Norse had left in the 13th century, Thurso continued to be an important hub for trade.
Members of the British Royal Family have been regular visitors to the region, although perhaps chiefly because of the scenic surroundings (rather than trade).
The Castle of Mey, 11 miles/18 kilometers from Scrabster, was the Highland holiday home of the late Queen Mother. When the Queen and her family went there to visit, they would disembark from the Royal yacht Britannia in Scrabster. Prince Charles continues to holiday at the castle, which is open to visitors (see below, under Do Not Miss).
And perhaps one should not be too surprised that Prince Charles returns regularly. With the majestic scenery of the northern Highlands, the area is no doubt fit for a future king.
Scrabster features three cruise quays, the longest of which can accommodate ships with an overall length of 590 feet/180 meters. Taxis and shuttles can be available pierside. The distance to central Scrabster is not more than some 0.5 miles/800 meters. Thurso is also within walking distance, some 2.2 miles/3.5 kilometer from the port area.
- The Castle of Mey is a must-see for many Scrabster visitors. The most northerly inhabited castle on the British mainland, the Castle of Mey was built between 1566 and 1572. The late Queen Mother took possession of the castle in 1952.
- Another castle, relatively close to Scrabster, is Dunrobin Castle. Dating from the 13th century, it has been the home of the Earls and Dukes of the region of Sutherland since then. The gardens, inspired by the Palace of Versailles in Paris, are worth experiencing.
- If you have ventured to northern Scotland, shopping is perhaps not first on your list of things to see and do. Still, it might be good to know that both Thurso and nearby Wick feature a good selection of high street shops.
- The award-winning Wick Heritage Museum tells the story of the town, founded as a result of a boom in herring fishing.
- A different type of legacy is the whisky produced in Wick, at the Pulteney Distillery. Established in 1826, the distillery is the most northerly on the British mainland.
- On the coast between Thurso and Wick, experience the spectacular scenery at Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British mainland (located east of Scrabster and Thurso). At a distance, the Orkney Islands are visible.
- In Thurso, visit the remains of St. Peter’s Kirk, dating from the 14th century. It is one of very few remaining buildings from medieval Thurso.
- If you fancy going surfing in the north of Scotland, the right place to start might be at Thurso Surf.
- Scrabster is a major fishing port. For a taste of what the sea off the shores of northern Scotland has to offer, a good place to do just that is The Captain’s Galley. This seafood restaurant is situated in Scrabster’s old ice house and salmon bothy. Another alternative for a good meal is The Upper Deck Restaurant, also located in Scrabster.
- Take a walk. The route from Scrabster to Thurso (or vice versa) is one alternative, but there are others too. From Scrabster, one option is to walk the 2.5 miles/4 kilometers to Holborn Head and the now defunct Holborn Head Lighthouse. Visit Scotland considers both these routes to be “moderate” in difficulty.
A range of shore excursions in and around Scrabster can be available. Examples include:
- Walking tours to the Holborn Head Lighthouse, north of Scrabster.
- Excursions to Dunnett Head are sometimes on offer. Along the way, experience the scenery in this part of Scotland: high mountains surround the most northerly community in Britain.
- Castle of Mey is one of the major attractions in the region. Excursions by car or coach can be on offer.
- The Pulteney Distillery in Wick can be featured on some excursions, as can the Wick Heritage Museum.
From Scrabster, it’s 265 miles/425 kilometers to Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. The distance to London is 669 miles/1,075 kilometers.
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