Thurso is the most northerly town on the British mainland and by far the largest on the north coast. Our quick guide includes all info on getting there, eating and sleeping, transport and what to see and do.
Phone code: +44 (0)1847
In medieval times Thurso was Scotland's chief port for trade with Scandinavia, though most of the town dates from the late 18th century when Sir John Sinclair built the 'new' extension to the old fishing port. The town increased in size to accommodate the workforce of the new nuclear power plant at nearby Dounreay, but the plant's demise has threatened the local economy. Today Thurso is a fairly nondescript place, mostly visited by people catching the ferry to Stromness in Orkney, or the occassional hardcore surfer.
About 10 miles northeast of Thurso is the most northerly point on the British mainland. No, not John O'Groats, but Dunnet Head. It's reached by turning off the Thurso-John O'Groats road at Dunnet, at the east end of Dunnet Bay, a three-mile-long sandy beach that's popular with surfers who come to tackle the gigantic waves of the Pentland Firth, the wild and treacherous strait between the mainland and Orkney.
It's a much nicer place than John O'Groats, with marvellous views across to Orkney and along the entire north coast (on a clear day). There's a Victorian lighthouse out at the point, and the dramatic seacliffs are teeming with seabirds. There's also a great little B&B, tel: 01847 851774, a few miles from the lighthouse.
Walks on the Head can be found on the Walking World web site http://www.walkingworld.com.
Local Sights & Activities for Thurso
There's little of real interest in the town centre. Near the harbour are the 17th-century ruins of Old St Peter's Church, which stand on the site of the original 13th-century church founded by the Bishop of Caithness.
In the town hall on the High Street is the Heritage Museum, which features some Pictish carved stones. Info - Jun-Sep Mon-Sat 1000-1300 and 1400-1700. £0.50 Tel. +44 (0)1847 892459.
There may be little in the way of activity in the town, but 10 miles west of Thurso there's plenty of radioactivity at the Dounreay Nuclear Power Station. Though its fast breeder reactors were decommissioned in 1994, the plant is still a major local employer and now reprocesses spent nuclear fuel. There is a permanent exhibition at the Visitor centre. T . 01847-802572, Easter-Sep daily 1000-1700, free, where you learn all about the benifits of nuclear power.
Thurso is also known to keen surfers who come here for the unbeatable surf. To the east of town, at Dunnet Bay, is a three-mile-long beach with an excellent reef break and there's another good reef break, at Brims Ness to the west. Further west, at Strathy Bay (see above) you'll find rollers that can match anything in Hawaii (though the water's a lot colder).
Entertainment in Thurso
At the All Star Factory. Ormlie Road. Cinema: +44 (0)1847 890890
Also at the All Star Factory. Ormlie Road. Bowling: +44 (0)1847 895050
Millbank Rd, Tel. +44 (0)1847 893260.
Thurso Hotels & Accommodation
Thurso also has 3 independent hostels: Sandra's Backpackers, 24-26 Princes St, Tel. +44 (0)1847 894575; Thurso Hostel, Ormlie Lodge, Ormlie Rd, Tel./Fax. +44 (0)1847 896888; and Thurso Youth Club, Old Mill, Millbank, Tel. +44 (0)1847 892964, open 1 Jul-30 Aug.
The nearest campsite is Thurso Camping Site, Tel. +44 (0)1847 607771, north of town on the road to Scrabster.