We had raced through Caithness on our way up to Orkney and we were determined to linger on the return leg of our trip as there were so many things we wanted to stop and see along the way. Of course, we climbed up Morven, the highest point in Caithness, and that was certainly a fantastic day but we did plenty of things that required less exertion. The coastal scenery of Caithness is hard to beat. The sea stacks at Duncansby Head on the north-easterly tip of Scotland are dramatic and worth the mile or two of walking from the lighthouse to see them. We also visited Dunnet Head, mainland Britain’s most northerly point, where after a wet morning the sun started to emerge and sea mist flowed over the cliffs; the beauty of it was mesmerising.
Following the coast we sought out some of the historical sights of Caithness. In the cliffs south of Wick are Whaligoe Steps, 330 flagged steps that zig-zag down to a rocky harbour inlet. The climb up and down the steps is beautiful in summer, surrounded by wild flowers and with views down to the harbour. The steps date back to the late 18th century and the harbour was used until the 1960s.
Inland we took the single-track road to the remote Loch of Yarrows Archaelogical Trail, which was a bit damp under-foot after the rain and where there are ruins of burial cairns and a broch. I learnt that stones in Caithness are not arranged in circles, they have rows and U-shaped arrangements. We wandered around the 22 rows of short stones [less than one metre high] of the Mid Clyth stone row and at Loch Stemster we walked the U of the isolated Achavanich Standing Stones.
We explored more recent history at Badbea, north of Helmsdale. The stones that mark the houses of the former village are perched on rough and steep hillside above the cliffs. Why would anyone choose to live in this spot that has no shelter from the north sea winds you wonder? The interpretation boards told me that this wasn’t a choice. In 1840 the people were cleared from their farms in the valleys to make way for sheep and this inhospitable land was all that was available. The people tried to scratch a living but within 60 years they had all left and the ruined buildings are now a reminder of how rich landowners exploit and mis-treat the people.