Glad to be leaving Thurso campsite today and heading back to Tongue, but first we have to do the tourist bit.  Against our better nature we are going to see what John O’ Groats has to offer.  We don’t have very high expectations…

The countryside in this northern-most part of Scotland is a bit disappointing and the weather doesn’t help.  It’s a bit of a grey day and everything is rather flat.  It reminds us of East Kent, and the journey to Broadstairs, a road we’ve always found rather depressing.  The dunes, with their marram grass though, are impressive.


First of all, we head to the most northerly place on the British mainland – Dunnet Head, as this curiously gravestone shaped memorial tells us.  You can see the long line of the Orkneys beyond. The lighthouse, as so many in this part of the world, is another Stevenson job (Robert Louis’s granddad apparently).



One of the best things about this area is the quantity of wild flowers everywhere:

Red Campion

Red Campion

Marsh Orchid

Marsh Orchid

Ragged Robin

Ragged Robin


Gorse with Sweet Rocket in the foreground

Masses of Sweet Rocket by an old mill

Masses of Sweet Rocket by an old mill

Sweet Rocket and Cow Parsley

Sweet Rocket and Cow Parsley

The late Queen Mum’s favourite residence, the Castle of Mey, is in the vicinity and, although we didn’t have time to visit, we took a look at the outside anyway.  Apparently it is very homely inside, despite its baronial look, with the television always on showing her favourite programme, Dad’s Army.


Funnily enough, I rather prefer this little ruined house with its garden full of Sweet Rocket…


One of the Pentland Ferries was coming in to the harbour at Gills Bay from South Ronaldsay in the Orkneys – so many of these names in the north east of Scotland have echoes of the shipping forecast!


And so we neared John O’ Groats.  Looks a bit like Disneyland from a distance and is a strange amalgam of art and a hard sell, with various quite new looking buildings which are there to help you part with your money.  We resisted the temptation and drove away, feeling oddly that we had done our duty and at least seen it.




Then we drove to Duncansby Head, which I believe is the most easterly point of the mainland, with another lighthouse and the famous Duncansby Stacks.



Passing what looks like the loneliest phone box in the country,


we made our way back to Bettyhill (featured image at the top) where a man was casting his line, and on to Tongue and the hotel of the same name where we were to lay our weary heads tonight.  It’s an old hunting lodge and contains various animals and birds in glass cases in the hallway – a bit grim.


Our room was a lovely big one overlooking a ruined castle in the distance (Castle Varich after which the room was named) and the mountain of Ben Loyal in the other direction.

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We had a very expensive meal which was definitely overpriced but pleasant enough. unfortunately, though, not a comfortable night’s sleep as the mattress was as hard as nails.  We thought fondly of dear Bessie, all alone in the car park…