The final day of our trip, discovering Caithness
The 9:43 Scotrail train from Helmsdale (click to read about our previous day) to Wick finished its journey at 11:38. Mackays Hotel, where we were staying, is just a 5-minute walk from the station, so we dropped our bags off before exploring the northern maritime town.
Mackays Hotel has an unusual claim to fame in that the hotel is located on the shortest street in the world and there is even a Guinness World of Records Certificate to prove it.
Here is a Mark for scale to show how dinky the street is.
Another interesting sight in Wick is where the painter L. S. Lowry set his painting, named, funnily enough, ‘Steps at Wick’. This is a set of Caithness flagstone steps in Pulteneytown.
Pulteneytown was planned by engineer Thomas Telford for the British Fisheries Society as Wick was Europe’s largest herring port at the time. The area is named after Sir William Pulteney who was a former governor of the British Fisheries Society.
Within Pulteneytown is the UK’s most Northern mainland distillery, Old Pulteney, where we visited next.
We’ve visited a number of whisky distilleries and Old Pulteney is pretty unique and a stark contrast to Clynelish the day before as everything is so old school here. This is not a place that is fully computerised, in modern buildings, or indeed part of a soulless international chain. It’s a small team of dedicated whisky makers who have been making whisky pretty much the same way since 1826.
There are up to 5 tours per day from 10:30am – 3:30pm Monday to Saturday from April to September and on weekdays only between October and March. ‘The spirit of Wick’ tour that we did costs £15, which includes two drams and a Glencairn whisky glass to take home. Allow 2 hours for the tour and a browse around the gift shop, where you can sample their own whisky liqueur. There is also a ‘From the source’ tour costing £40, which has more tastings and you get a rocks glass to take home at the end, or ‘The fleet experience’ for £100, where you get to try all their whiskies, including the 25-year old and two exclusive bottlings plus a crystal glass to take home.
Following that, we paid a visit to the local history museum, the Wick Heritage Centre.
The museum is quite extensive, covering two floors of rooms depicting what life in the town was like in times gone by. There are collections of Caithness glass, classic cameras, and The Johnston collection of historic photos taken between 1863 and 1975. The original light from the Noss Head Lighthouse is also on display.
The Wick Heritage Museum is open Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm with last entry at 3.45pm, while Saturday is 11am to 3pm.
We returned to the hotel for a well-earned cup of tea and rest.
Dining in at Mackays Hotel in Wick
That evening we had dinner at No 1 Bistro, the AA rosette restaurant on the world’s shortest street at Mackays Hotel.
To start we enjoyed a creamy Cullen Skink; and seafood bonbons with shallot puree, crispy capers and wasabi mayo.
Followed by roast beef with all the trimmings; and pan-fried Scottish beef rump medallion, pulled beef and crispy beef and horseradish bon bons, carrot puree, tenderstem broccoli, rosti and jus.
To finish we had the dark chocolate tart with berry compote; and banana and peanut parfait coated in white chocolate, crisp meringues and berries.
They have a selection of John O’Groats Brewery beers at the hotel. On our visit, there were 3 bottled varieties and 1 real cask ale. This was a brewery we didn’t know much about so naturally we had all 4 with our meal and we’d recommend all of them! Next time we are up north we will try to visit the brewery itself.
Day 5 – More of Wick and then homeward bound
Following a good night’s sleep, we awoke to a dry and sunny day.
For breakfast, we filled our bellies with smoked haddock and a poached egg; and a full Scottish breakfast with Potato Scone (hurrah) while also helping ourselves to yoghurt and cereal.
We left early to have a coffee at the nearby Caithness Coffee Co and grab some sandwiches and cakes for the journey home from The Home Bakery on Francis Street.
Like most breaks, it was all over far too soon. We visited places we would never have thought of travelling to by public transport which meant we could both relax and enjoy whisky tastings at the distilleries and stop off at pubs in the daytime if we wanted. The scenery was stunning, the weather was surprisingly good and the inhabitants of Caithness and Sutherland couldn’t have been friendlier and more welcoming.
We are already planning another trip north.
Read about the other days of our trip below:
Many thanks to Venture North for planning the itinerary for us, and to Scotrail for providing free rail travel for the duration of our trip.