By Brenda B Taylor
“They wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another.” (Psalm 105:13 NLT)
The northern most district on the mainland of Scotland is the district of Caithness. Over a thousand years ago, Vikings from Scandinavia traversed the Pentland Firth and turned Caithness life upside down. For the next four hundred years, their culture grafted onto the landscape and language. Signs of their language remain in names like, Skirza and Freswick.
John O’ Groats (Taigh Iain Ghròt in Scottish Gaelic) is a village on the northeastern tip of the Highland Council area of Caithness in the Scottish Highlands. It is often called “The start of Great Britain”.
Note the ice cream sign on the dock. I’m not sure anyone buys ice cream in the cold, windy village. A cup of hot coffee or chocolate seems more desirable.
John O’ Groats is popular with tourists because it is generally regarded as the most northerly settlement on the island of Great Britain, although this is not a claim made by its inhabitants and is in fact false. It is however, one end of the longest distance between two inhabited points on the island of Great Britain, with Land’s End on the far southern end of Great Britain, being the other point. John o’ Groats is 876 miles (1409.78 km) away from Land’s End.
The most northerly point on the island of Great Britain is nearby Dunnet Head.
Brave pilots rushed out from these shores to help passing ships, less than a hundred years ago. They often became immigrants to foreign lands, because captains didn’t want to stop.
The town is said to be named after John de Groat and his two brothers, who came from Holland with a royal letter of protection and built a house on the site in the 16th century. We visited the site the first of September, and it was cold and windy. Winter time is especially fierce and cold.
Caithness is sparsely populated and consists mainly of sheep farms. The main town in the district is Thurso, a fishing port on the northern coast of Scotland with a population of 7,300 (est. 2009).
Castle of Mey, the vacation home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on Caithness, is located not far from John O’Groats. She worshiped in a small kirk while staying in the area.