For the journey alone, it is worth visiting John O’Groats. It is almost the northern most tip of Scotland’s mainland and a destination many want to achieve. Charity runners and riders often trek from Land’s End at the southern most tip of England to John O’Groats. From Inverness it is 120 miles away. With some stunning scenery enroute and pretty villages full of history, it’s a great day out from Inverness. Going up the north east coast of Scotland on the A9 it is part of the circular North Coast 500.
John O’Groats is a tiny village. The name comes from a 15th century Dutchman, Jan de Groot, who ran a ferry from the mainland to the Orkney Isles. On a clear day you can see the first of the many islands of Orkney. These days many people stop here for the iconic photograph of the famous signpost. There’s plenty of space for parking, stretching your legs, toilets, as well as cafes and shops.
Dolphin Spotting on the Black Isle
Whilst there isn’t a great deal at John O’Groats itself, the journey there and back is full of interest. From Inverness you head north on the A9 over the Kessock Bridge and through the Black Isle. There’s a well known viewing point for dolphin spotting at Channery Point. It’s a few miles off the A9 between the villages of Fortrose and Rosemarkie. If you are privileged to see the dolphins jumping and playing it’s a wonderful sight.
Falconry at Dunrobin Castle and Gardens
The next bridge takes you over the Cromarty Firth and you can’t fail to notice the unused oil riggs across the seascape. You’re soon in Tain, which is home to the world famous distillery Glenmorangie. Tain Pottery is also based here. Next stop is Dunrobin Castle, which is near Golspie, and is a magnificent building full of history. The gardens are beautiful with breathtaking views out to sea. Twice a day there is a falconry display in the gardens.
Timespan Museum, Helmsdale
The fishing village of Helmsdale is worth a stop. On the outskirts is the Emigrants’ Statue, in memory of all the people forced from their homes to leave Scotland during the Highland Clearances. You can learn more about this and the history of the area at the excellent Timespan Museum in Helmsdale. North of Helmsdale you head into Caithness and soon encounter the Berriedale Braes. This notorious stretch of road has recently been improved to iron out the severe hairpin bends, but you still need to take care. Check your breaks before this point in the road.
There are a couple of small towns near the most northerly point, Wick and Thurso. There are more castles, museums and churches to visit. Just south of Wick is Old Wick Castle, which is a Norse ruin on an amazing cliff walk. Also nearby is Duncansby Head where you will see the Duncansby Stacks.
The next stop is John O’Groats and you have reached your destination. These are just a few suggestions of places to visit along the route. There are many more to suit all interests. If you’re continuing round the North Coast 500, here‘s some useful information to help plan your trip. You don’t have to stop here, you can go further north to Orkney. Find out why you should stay here at Bannerman Bed and Breakfast, the perfect base before heading north.