Wick, The origins of Wick (from Old Norse 'vik, 'bay') go back to Viking times when a small settlement was established here in the far north-east of Scotland. It matured over the centuries until, in 1589, it was accorded royal burgh status. Even then, its claim to 'fame' was rather muted until, in 1767, its foundations as a herring port were laid by three local men. In 1808 the British Fishery Society obtained land on the south side of the' town's 'harbour and a model fishing village, Pulteney town, was built under the direction of Thomas Telford, who named many of its streets after his friends. From then on Wick became one of the most important ports while the herring swarmed in huge shoals round the northern coasts of Scotland. In its heyday 1100 fishing boats used the port and you could walk from wick to Pulteney town across the harbour stepping from one boat to another.
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The herring fishing industry began to fail by the turn of the century and Wick had to turn to other economic bases to survive. Happily, the whitefish industry has offered a partial salvation, though the heady days of last century have quite disappeared. Echoes of those days are much in evidence with fine wide streets and attractive wooded squares. The houses show the sombre colour of the local stone used in their construction: Caithness flagstone. This material was once so popular that an industry was founded on cutting and polishing the stone, which was then exported south to London, to the Continent, and even as far as Melbourne in Australia.
The former use of the flagstones, as dykes around farms, is still seen in the Caithness hinterland. In keeping with the enterprise that the Wickers have always displayed, there is a variety of industrial operations in the town, ranging from high technology underwater television systems, for use in North Sea oil rig and pipe maintenance, to the continuation of the age-old craft of glassmaking. Some of the world's finest glass paperweights are made here, while the engraved glass products are superb examples of this art form; the works at Harrow Hill have in fact become a great tourist attraction.
The local distillery produces 'Old Pulteney', of which the Highland novelist Neil Gunn, himself a native of Caithness, once said 'It has to be come upon as one comes upon a friend, and treated with proper respect. ' Echoes of the past fishing history of Wick are displayed in the Wick Heritage Centre on Bank Row, housed in buildings which were once part of Telford's plans. Wick's past is also seen in the most complete collection of Victorian photographs of any Scottish town: over 100,000 glass negatives, many prints from which are on display to offer a unique experience and link with the heady days of yesteryear.
Wick, standing on the river of the same name, is called after the Norse term Vik meaning bay. A small fishing fleet dealing mainly in white fish operates out of the harbour and is a reminder of greater things in the past.
The "silver darlings", - Wick was one of the first towns to develop the herring fishery on a large scale and by the early 19C was the largest herring fishing port. In its heyday over 1000 boats operated out of the harbour and the neighbouring port of Pulteneytown on the south bank. The British Fisheries Society commissioned Telford to draw up the plans for this new fishing settlement. In those days it was a common sight to see the harbours a jumble of undecked boats and mass of masts, and the Quays and all available dockside space spilling over with the paraphernalia of the curing industry. Curing, to be done imperatively within 24 hours, entailed gutting, packing in barrels and salting, and involved large squads of itinerant workers, mostly women. Wick Heritage Centre. - A series of tableaux reconstitute the town's history and heritage: a model of 20C Wick when it was one of the premier herring ports, cooper's shop, a fish kiln, working lighthouse and interiors. Prehistoric and 20C Caithness is about 30 miles to the south by the A9. This run takes the visitor through flat, moorland countryside to two prehistoric sites and a 20C crofting museum. The Caithness factory was founded in 1960. The glassware is known for its high quality workmanship, subtle colours, fine design and engraving. Visitors are welcome to the factory where the glass making process can be followed The Hill O MANY STONES -This site with its 22 rows of small stones is a Bronze Age monument (c1850 BC). The purpose of this fan shaped arrangement may have been astronomical.
Other settings exist in the north but the most famous examples are those of Carnac in Brittany (see the Michelin Green Guide Brittany). Grey Cairns of Camster. This is typical crofting country - a bleak expanse of moorland dotted with small cultivated areas and crofts, The first of the two cairns is the Round Cairn with its 20ft long entrance passage (to be negotiated on hands and knees) and chamber, The much larger second one, the Long Caim** is 200ft long by 65ft wide. This longhorned structure incorporates two earlier beehive cairns. The main chamber is tripartite, subdivided by large slabs, The chambered cairns of the area date from the Neolithic period (4400-2000 BC). laidhay Croft Museum. - Long white washed crofts like this one are typical of the Caithness area. Under one roof there are the living quarters subdivided by box beds, into kitchen, parlour and sleeping area, with the byre and stables at either end. Furnished as it would have been in the 1930s this museum gives a real insight into life at the time. The barn, beside the car park, is an interesting example of cruck construction using drift wood in an area where timber was scarce. *Duncansby Head, - his excursion takes you to the north-eastern tip of the Scottish mainland and is notable for its magnificent coastal scenery, Sheltered coves and sandy bays alternate with giddily steep cliffs and such associated features as rock stacks, natural arches and bridges, and narrow inlets known locally as goes.
The rock ledges are the home of guillemots, shags, fulmars, kittiwakes and a variety of gulls and other species. Leave Wick to the north by the road signposted Noss Head, Leave the car in the car park then take the path through the fields,' 15 minute walk. Girnigoe and Sinclair Castles_ - Ruins in a dangerous condition. The jagged ruins of two adjacent castles are dramatically set on a peninsula, overlooking the great sandy sweep of Sinclair's Bay on one side and a typical geo on the other. Nearest to the point of the peninsula is the late 15C Castle Girnigoe with its evil dungeon, The part known as Castle Sinclair, an early 17C addition, stands to the left beyond a ditch. Both were the seat of the Sinclair Earls of Caithness. Return to the outskirts of Wick to take the John o'Grosts road, the A9, Pass on the way the tall ruined form of Keiss Castle and standing nearby the white form of its successor. John Nicolson Museum, - Auckengill.
The artefacts on display were found by John Nicolson during a lifetime of excavating local brochs. Caithness has over 100 of these Iron Age brochs. The road climbs and once over the rise the southern most isle of the Orkney Islands can be seen in the distance. John 0' Groats. - 876 miles from Land's End, this scattered community takes its name from a Dutchman, Jan de Groat who started a regular ferry service to the Orkney Islands in the 16C, The octagonal tower of the hotel recalls the story of the ferryman. who to settle problems amongst his seven descendants, built an eight sided house with eight doors and an octagonal table. A passenger boat service still operates from the harbour to Burwick on South Ronaldsay. Take the road to the east to Duncansby Head 2 miles away. Duncansby Head. - From around the lighthouse, which commands this north-eastern headland of mainland Scotland, there is a good view across the Pentlands Firth, a seven mile wide channel notorious for its treacherous tides. A path leads to another cliff top viewpoint overlooking the Stacks of Duncansby Standing offshore these pointed sea-stacks rise to a spectacular height of 21Oft-64 m.