Thurso is the most northerly town on the British mainland and by far the largest settlement on the north coast. Our guide includes all info on getting there, eating and sleeping, transport and what to see and
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 ThursoSightseeing
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. 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 Dounteay 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. T01847-802572, 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).
At the All Star Factory. Ormlie Road. Cinema: 890890
Also at the All Star Factory. Ormlie Road. Bowling: 895050
Millbank Rd, Tel. 893260.
Thurso Hotels & Accommodation
A reasonable bet is the huge Royal Hotel, Traill St, Tel. 893191. 102 rooms. Central, and upgraded to include indoor pool and leisure facilities. The nicest place to stay, though, is the Forss Country House Hotel, Tel. 861201, , 4 miles out of town at Bridge of Forss. This small family-run hotel is set in 20 acres of lovely woodland and has an excellent restaurant, open to non-residents (mid-range to expensive).
With excellent food and only 5 minutes drive from the main ferry link to the Orkney Islands and 25 minutes from John O'Groats.more details about Valley View Bed and Breakfast
There are lots of cheap B&Bs, including: Murray House, 1 Campbell St, Tel. 895759,; Annandale, 2 Rendel Govan Rd, Tel. 893942,; and Mrs C Murray, 1 Granville Crescent, Tel. 892993.
Thurso also has 3 independent hostels: Sandra's Backpackers, 24-26 Princes St, Tel. 894575; Thurso Hostel, Ormlie Lodge, Ormlie Rd, Tel./Fax. 896888; and Thurso Youth Club, Old Mill, Millbank, Tel. 892964, open 1 Jul-30 Aug.
The nearest campsite is Thurso Camping Site, Tel. 607771, north of town on the road to Scrabster.
The best place to eat in town is The Upper Deck in Scrabster, Tel. 892814, by the harbour. It has a mid-range surf'n'turf menu. Other than that, your best bet is a bar meal at the Pentland Hotel, Tel. 893202. A decent café is Johnston's on Traill St. There are also the ubiquitous Indian and Chinese restaurants and fish and chip shops. Out of town is the Forss Country House Hotel (see above) and The Bower Inn, Tel. 01955-661292, between Thurso and Wick. To get there, turn off the coast road at Castletown and follow the B876 till you see the sign for Gillock.
Travel Directions to Thurso
There are daily buses to and from Inverness which connect with buses to Edinburgh. There are regular daily buses to and from Wick airport. Ferries to Stromness in Orkney leave from Scrabster, 2 miles north of Thurso, and a bus service runs between Thurso train station and Scrabster ferry pier. The train station is at the south end of Princes St, 500 yd from the TIC. There are daily trains from Inverness.
The Tourist Information Centre is on Riverside Rd, Tel. 892371. Open Apr-Oct Mon-Sat 0900-1800, Jul and Aug also Sun 1000-1800. They have a leaflet on local surfing beaches.
Citylink buses run to and from Inverness (3 € hrs) 4 times daily, Tel. 0870-5505050, continuing to Scrabster to connect with the ferries to and from Stromness in Orkney. Citylink buses to Inverness connect with buses to Edinburgh. Highland Country Buses, Tel. 01847-893123, run local services to Bettyhill (3 times daily Mon-Thu, twice on Sat; 1 hr 10 mins) and to Reay (4 times daily Mon-Thu, 3 times on Sat). There are regular daily buses to and from Wick via Halkirk or Castletown. Highland Country Buses also run the service between Thurso train station and Scrabster ferry pier (5-10 mins). Harrold Coaches, Tel. 01955-631295, run a service to and from John O'Groats (4 times daily Mon-Thu, twice on Sat; 1 hr). There's also a Postbus service to Wick airport, leaving Riverside Rd at 0920 and arriving at 1000.
William Dunnett & Co, Tel. 893101.
The Bike & Camping Shop, the Arcade, 34 High St, Tel. 896124, rents mountain bikes for around £8 per day.
Ferries to Stromness in Orkney leave from Scrabster, 2 miles north of Thurso.
Three trains leave daily from Inverness (3 € hrs), 2 of them connecting with the ferries from Scrabster to Stromness in Orkney. Trains continue to Wick (30 mins) and return trains to Inverness leave from Wick.
Buses arrive at Sir George's St Port Office and depart from Sir George's St Church