I previously wrote Ten things to see and do in and around Wick. I was lucky enough to be able to return to the town recently and discovered ten more things to add to my list. Here they are:
1. Discover fine architectural details
There are many towns and cities where you are encouraged to look up. This rings true for Wick. Look at the highly detailed stone carving on the columns of the bank on Bridge Street. Glance up at the first floor windows on the Sheriff Court- exotic don't you think? They are a copy of windows from a palace in Venice.
2. Find the lions
Four lion heads with perfect white teeth, red tongues and fierce eyes adorn a fountain on a peaceful riverside location. The fountain sits in a small park with benches, pretty flowers and a view of the Thomas Telford designed bridge.
3. Dinner at Mackay's hotel
What you are looking at is local crab rillette with a caper and pickled cucumber salad. It is creamy, lemony and succulent and will leave you wanting more. Dinner at No 1 Bistro at Mackay's Hotel is exceptional. The food is seasonal and locally sourced, so you will get a true taste of Caithness here.
4. Wick River walks
Wick River runs through the town and you can walk along its banks into the countryside. You might just hear a sedge warbler, a bird that has 50 musical elements in its song. It pours them out randomly, so that it is unlikely that you will hear the same tune repeated twice. The river is also home to a very rare plant, estuarine sedge, which can only be found in America and two other places in Scotland.
5. Wick train station
The very last stop on Britain's railways is Wick, when you travel north. The station is an attractive stone building with arched Georgian-style windows and exposed roof beams. Go before departure time when the sound of the idling engine seems amplified because trains are almost enclosed inside the building. It brings a bit of noisy drama and a sense of occasion to the start of an epic journey on the Far North Line, perhaps hinting at the bygone era of steam locomotives.
6. Cliff Bakery
A Scottish town with a good bakery is a town worth visiting. The Cliff Bakery is proper old school. The cakes are displayed in the trays that they are baked on, instead of being displayed in neat individual slices. It gives a more authentic and homemade feeling to the place. Try the toffee mallow cake for a bit of fluffy, sweet deliciousness.
7. Walk up famous steps
A few years ago a painting of these steps sold for £890,500. It was by L.S. Lowry the renowned painter of English industrial landscapes, characterised by their matchstick figures. Lowry took holidays in Scotland and painted Black Steps, Wick, in 1936. The painting captures the stairs at a busy moment with lots of people, including a child being pushed in a wheel barrel, thankfully in front of the steps and not down them.
8. Feel like you are in a Lowry painting at Old Pulteney Distillery
The scenes in Lowry paintings are from a bygone era, but if you walk up the Black Steps and continue to Old Pulteney Distillery some of that Lowry atmosphere is recreated. The collection of buildings, warehouses and tenements, still black from pollution, the smell of malt and the smoke coming out of the distillery is reminiscent of an industrial scene. It captures something of Wick's past as a very busy working town of fishermen, cabinet makers, blacksmiths, boat builders and shoe makers.
8. Lunch at Morag's
This a friendly place where you will hear banter between Morag and the locals. It is also superb value and quality. I had the best cheese and pickle sandwich of my life here. The filling was thick with a generous quantity of grated cheese. The bread chunky and soft. It also came with crisps, potato salad, tomato, lettuce and cucumber. All this for £2.75. "Everything here is made fresh," Morag told me whilst chatting away and making me feel very welcome. There is also a quality coffee machine churning out very good cappuccinos. Why not treat yourself to something from the lengthy and exciting milkshake menu? Flavours include pavlova banoffee, creme egg and chocolate orange jaffa cake.
10. Statue of the historian
Jame Calder wrote a history of Caithness in 1861. His statue is by the river, near the train station. It has a young face with curly hair, clutching a scroll, with a top hat resting on a folded up coat. A quote on the plinth explains why Calder felt "a strong attachment" to Caithness. I presumed he would be saying something about the heritage and landscapes, but no it was people that made this place special to him: "it is the residence of all my best and dearest friends; and it contains within its bosom the ashes of my kindered."
More about Wick:
For some more ideas about what to see and do in Wick read my previous post, Ten things to see and do in and around Wick.
Read my review of Mackays Hotel in wick
This blew me away. I loved every minute of it. Sometimes I get off my bike to go for a walk and the Big Burn is the most spectacular walk that I have done on a cycling trip.
The walk begins in a forest with no hint of how spectacular it will become. In fact, it is a somewhat ordinary introduction. The name of the walk gives nothing away- a burn does not sound impressive- but the picture on the stone sign suggests something more special:
The path crosses a humpback bridge, with the same name as me!
A plaque on the bridge explains why it is called Colin's Bridge. It pays tribute to a local man who voluntarily carried out repair works to the paths.
The walk proceeds under the huge railway arch and alongside the burn. Its banks are thick with trees and foliage.
So far, quite a nice walk, but not necessarily spectacular.
That was to change all of a sudden...
The path takes you into a gorge where the burn flows fast and noisily. Wooden bridges continually cross the gorge from one side to the other as you make your way further inside. It felt to me like an expedition into a lost world. I thought I was somewhere abroad, not Scotland. There was something about the rocky chasm, the soundscape of rushing water and the exotic-looking green foliage that transported me elsewhere.
This waterfall, in particular, made me think of rain-forests in Costa Rica. Those delicate tendrils of silvery water pattering over a rock garden of lush green moss seemed to me to be evocative of South America:
I should not have been thinking of elsewhere. This beauty was right here, in Scotland, and I was fortunate to be able to see it. Enjoy this short video that captures the lovely sound of this waterfall:
After seeing this I thought that I had seen the main attraction of this walk, but no. It continued further into the gorge, across more bridges.
I was so glad that there was more and the adventure could continue.
I turned a corner and wham! A gushing, deafening, powerful waterfall was before me. The water was being forced through a narrow gap in the gorge and this was the reason for all this watery chaos.
I stayed awhile, enjoying the sound of the water and feeling the spray on my face. It was spectacular and this video captures some of the magic of this waterfall.
I loved how lush and green this walk is. Take a look at this stairway cutting through grasses.
It was a wet day during my visit, but it did not matter. It added to the feeling of being on an adventure and going somewhere wild. It made the foliage more lush. Look at this carpet of glistening leaves on the path:
Once I had seen the waterfall I retraced my steps to return to Golspie. On the way I took the path marked for the skating pond and found a peaceful spot that would be ideal for a summer picnic.
This walk is a must. If you are in the area please make the effort to do the walk as you will not regret it. The distance of the walk is about 2 miles, relatively short for something that turns out to be such an incredible adventure.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Golspie? The Golspie Inn is right next to this walk. Read my review of Golspie Inn
For more things to see and do in Golspie take a look at Ten things to see and do in Golspie.
Try cycling the quiet road between Golspie and Dornoch for amazing views of snowy mountains.
Golspie to Littleferry is a short, quiet road that makes for great cycling.
At time of writing Golspie station house was up for sale, if you fancy living in a Highland train station.
On a recent trip to Golspie, a village located 50 miles north of Inverness, I discovered that the station house is up for sale. It is a gorgeous building and I wondered what it would be like to live there. I had a look at the estate agent's brochure and discovered that there are many exciting original features.
One of my favourite things about the building is this veranda. I can easily imagine sitting and enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine and watching the trains go by.
Another plaque has the initials "SR", standing for Sutherland Railway, the railway belonging to the Duke of Sutherland. You can make this out in this picture, just before the apex of the roof:
The house has four bedrooms and inside there are sash and case windows, original fireplaces and some wooden flooring.
The most impressive room in the house is the lounge, which used to be separated into the ticket office and station master's office. The fireplace has a Caithness stone hearth.
I really like the main window in the lounge which features a cenrtal oval panel. I have never seen a window like this before and it is yet another feature that makes this such a unique home.
There is something very appealing about living in a former train station and the one at Golspie is certainly beautiful. At the time of writing the house is still available, so get in quick if you have always dreamed of such a home.
The next station on the railway is Dunrobin Castle, another beautiful station building that I have written about.
Golspie is a great place to base yourself when exploring popular attractions like Dunrobin Castle or walking to the summit of Ben Bhraggie. If you have a bit more time to spare in the village here are some more ideas for things you can see and do. In no particular order:
1. The Big Burn Walk
Magical, stunning, exciting...whatever superlatives you use to describe this, they will never be enough. You have to experience it for yourself.
You enter a gorge with fast flowing water, crossing it back and forth on wooden bridges. You go deeper into the gorge that is lush with forest and plant life. You turn a corner and wham! There it is, powerful, impressive and mesmerising- the walk ends at a roaring waterfall. Come at different times of the year to experience changes in the foliage, like carpets of wild garlic and bluebells.
2. Look for Scotland's oldest post box
Golspie has the oldest post box in Scotland. It features Queen Victoria royal insignia, rather than the Queen Elizabeth II insignia that you normally see on boxes. It is on the wall of the Golspie Inn. Once you have found it why not pop inside for a bite to eat...
3. Lunch or dinner at the Golspie Inn
This historic coaching inn is over 200 years old and one of the prettiest buildings in Golspie, It was the first inn in Sutherland to have a bar and today you can try a tasty beer from the Loch Ness brewery. My favourite is Caith Ness, which is made with porridge oats and Caithness honey. Fresh, local and seasonal is the ethos in the kitchen. You have to try the fish and chips. The haddock is thick and succulent and the chips are sheer perfection- crispy on the outside and fluffy as a cloud on the inside.
4. Find the fishy gargoyles
Somewhere in the village there are these otherworldly creatures sprouting out of a wall. You will find them on the Countess of Sutherland memorial fountain. I read a description of the fountain that called them dolphins, but I don't think they look much like a dolphin. They are fantastical creations that transported my imagination elsewhere. Brilliant.
5. Go villa spotting
On Fountain Road, where the fishy gargoyles live on the fountain, there are several fine Victorian villas. I particularly liked the one with the yellow door and window frames. I could smell wood burning fires and this had me dreaming of an armchair, a whisky and a grand sitting room. Golspie has many beautiful houses that can be seen on a walk around the village.
Also on Fountain Road, Coffee Bothy serves superb coffee in cute, cosy, rustic surroundings. Try the coffee and walnut cake to boost your caffeine hit- it is the most coffee tasting cake I have ever tasted (in a very good way). Opt for a takeaway and walk down to the sea front promenade, located just behind Main Street. There are benches where you can sit and ponder the expanse of the North Sea and watch oystercatchers and other seabirds go about their business.
7. St. Andrew's Church
This white eighteenth century church is on Main Street. Open the iron gate and step into the church yard for a peaceful moment. There is a sprinkling of snowdrops in the spring and you will notice an interesting mixture of windows of different sizes as you walk around the outside of the building. This was originally the Earl of Sutherland's family chapel and later became the parish church.
8. Walk across the grass bridge
Golspie Old Bridge no longer carries traffic over Golspie Burn, but you can still walk across it and experience the interesting sensation of a grass covered bridge. There are benches, so you can take a seat and enjoy the location for a few moments. This is one of Thomas Telford's bridges, the renowned engineer who had been tasked with a massive project of road and bridge building in the Highlands at the beginning of the nineteenth century. There is an obelisk in the middle of the bridge that has a Gaelic inscription with an English translation below- it marks this place as a rallying point for the clan Sutherland.
9. Loch Fleet
Loch Fleet is a nature reserve, located about 3 miles from the centre of the village. The quiet road to the loch is ideal for cycling. There is a chance of spotting wildlife like otter, wild cat, pine marten, osprey and seals. There are woodland and coastal walks.
10. Visit a Caithness stone workshop
At Sutherland Stonework, next to the Big Burn Walk, you might catch the workshop in action. There is a cutting machine out the back and slabs of Caithness Stone lined up. This stone can only be found in the far north of Scotland, so if you are looking for a unique souvenir this could be just the thing. There is a showroom where you can view the range of work on offer. You could get a worktop, house sign, window sills or whatever your imagination conjures up. Their website states "We will make anything in stone."
Golspie is 50 miles north of Inverness and takes just over 2 hours to reach by train. If you have come this way to see Dunrobin Castle you will likely travel through Golspie as it is about 2 miles from the castle. Also worth visiting is Carn Liath Broch, 3 miles from Golspie and 1 mile from Dunrobin Castle.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.