Scrabster and John o’ Groats

Though the sea was a lot calmer this morning, the rough weather yesterday meant our arrival in Scrabster was delayed by about 90 minutes. So it wasn’t until 10 o’clock that we docked in this fishing port in the Scottish county of Caithness.

We’d never been here before but we learned that Scrabster is Britain’s northernmost large port set on the north-western edge of Thurso Bay, and has been a harbour town since Viking times, when the Norsemen arrived in their longboats and formed a thriving settlement at this natural port.

In fact, reading the word “Scrabster” reminded me of a cross between “crab” and “lobster” and I was hoping to find some seafood stalls selling local cockles and mussels, as I absolutely love fresh shellfish.

Today we had booked on the Northern Highland Sights and Scenery tour so, boarding the bus on the quayside, we set off through the small fishing town, past the little houses and cottages perched on the hills with fantastic views of the harbour.

The weather was cloudy and a little bit windy, but at least it was dry. The coastal landscape gave way to fields of sheep and cattle with the occasional farm building, as we passed through remote, tiny little villages. There was also rugged moorland of heather and gorse. It looked a peaceful, idyllic place to live, miles from the hustle and bustle and stresses of traffic jams. However, unless you were a farmer or fisherman, I don’t know if there would be many other means of employment here, apart from a shopkeeper or publican/hotelier.

Our first stop of the day was at the famous John o’ Groats, on the north-eastern tip of Scotland. It isn’t the most northerly point on the mainland (we’d visit that later on) but it’s the furthest point from Land’s End, in Cornwall, as is beloved of cyclists and backpackers who want to do the 876 mile journey from one end of this island to the other, usually as an endurance test and/or to raise money for charity.

The town of John o’ Groats takes its name from Jan de Groote, a Dutchman who obtained a grant for the ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, recently acquired from Norway, from James IV, King of Scots, in 1496.
By this time the sun was peeping hesitantly out from behind the clouds so, alighting from the bus, we spotted a little shop called “Flavours” that sold 15 different flavours of ice cream. I got a rum and raisin cone and Trevor got a toffee one and we strolled around the cliff top, looking in the little souvenir shops; in fact it was now starting to feel like a typical British seaside holiday, especially looking at the tour buses and the visitors, all doing what we were doing and enjoying an ice cream in the sunshine and bracing sea breeze. 🙂

After about 45 minutes it was time to go back on the bus. We passed some more of the lovely, rugged and remote scenery, seeing the small crofters’ cottages among the fields, some containing the distinctive black Aberdeen Angus cattle.

Our next stop was to Dunnet Head, and this time it was the most northerly point in mainland Britain, at 58° 40′ N, 03° 22 W. There wasn’t much here apart from the lighthouse, but there were great views of the islands of Stroma and Hoy, as well as Orkney. We were told by Mary, our guide, that it was a haven for bird-watchers and there had often been dolphins spotted, or indeed a friendly seal or two. So not really a lot to see or do here but, as with John o’ Groats, at least we can say we have been. 🙂

Back on the bus we passed more of the beautiful scenery before arriving back at the Adonia in time for lunch at around half past one. We’d already spotted a pub in the village called “The Ferry Inn” so we decided to wander along afterwards, as the weather was now quite warm if you could find somewhere out of the breeze.
We took a walk along to the pub, passing the Thurso lifeboat station and the lifeboat itself on the way. Inside were a couple of the locals, but various people came in off the Adonia to do what we were doing and have a couple of pints or taste the local whisky.

When we went back on board we had an afternoon nap then got ourselves ready for dinner as usual. From our table near the window we could see when the Adonia slipped her moorings at 7.00pm and started to head back in a south westerly direction.

Then it was off to the Curzon lounge where singer Lorraine Brown, the Shirley Bassey wannabe, was performing again.
Later on, in the Crow’s Nest, we enjoyed some drinks with Charlie and Linda before they decided to go to the Conservatory to take part in the syndicate quiz, but we were staying in the Crow’s Nest as tonight it was karaoke night, and yours truly, as ever, would be getting up to do a couple of numbers. 🙂

We moved our seats so we could get some good bird’s eye views of the receding, rugged coastline and watch the lighthouses flash their beams, warning mariners of rocks. We saw another cruise ship in the distance, and looking through the binoculars provided, we saw the Fred Olsen logo on the funnel; the ship turned out to be the Boudicca, on which we cruised in 2008, when we went all the way up to Spitsbergen, and nearly to 80° north.

At 10.15pm entertainments officer Graham came into the lounge to start the karaoke. There weren’t many people in the Crow’s Nest by then, so I hoped a few more would come in after the main show had finished, as I didn’t want to be the only one to get up and sing! However, on this particular cruise most of the passengers were elderly, and indeed we’d been told that the average age was 69, so it looked as though most of them had taken their cups of Horlicks and gone to bed. 😉

Well, I have to say that the karaoke turned out to be the “Graham and Debbie Show” as Graham “filled in” by doing a few songs and I was the only passenger to get up! We each did four songs, but we were performing to a nearly-empty room, so I don’t think they’ll be putting on any more karaoke nights this cruise. 🙂

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