Perhaps one of the most famous areas in Scotland, John O’Groats is a site of pilgrimage for those who want to feel as though they are standing on the edge of the world as they know it, looking out at the wide expanse of the sea that lays before them as this is the very top of mainland Scotland. Though not necessarily the most northerly point, it is recognised as being the very top of the United Kingdom. Once there you will find a sign that states that you are 874 miles from its southern counterpart, Land’s End. You will not find anything flattering about the place in the guide books, nothing that makes it stand out from the rest of the country, but none the less it is a place that sees thousands of tourists visiting every year, just to say that they have stood here.
Attractions for Visitors
Other than being a gateway to the Orkney Islands there are a number of tourist oriented attractions here such as craft shops and a decent café bar, appropriately called the ‘Journey’s End’. There are a number of small gift shops when you can buy your mementos of visiting where the land runs into the sea and there is also a museum. The craft village is well worth having a wander around as you will be able to see craftsmen at work making handmade pottery and hand dipped candles, as well as having the opportunity to buy some to take home with you.
Though the hotel is currently closed there is accommodation available in the form of a camping and caravan site that is quite popular, from which you get some stunning and uninterrupted views of the Pentland Firth. The harbour here sees the regular arrival of the ferry that carries foot passengers over to the Orkney Islands between May and September and there are a number of other wildlife cruises available.
Who was John o’Groat?
This part of Scotland is actually named after Jan de Groot, a Dutchman. Back in 1496 it was de Groot that was granted the franchise to run a ferry here between the harbour and the nearby Orkneys, by James IV. There is a commonly held folk tale that states that it was from De Groot that the name of the groat an old unit of currency, a silver coin was taken, and this in turn would be the price for travel on the ferry, however the groat had been in circulation for some two hundred years prior to his arrival here.
However it was down to De Groot that the area around the harbour was developed, and it is believed that he built himself an unusually shaped, octagonal house here, a shape which was mirrored in the striking design of the John o’Groats hotel. The stone that marked his grave, the John de Groat stone, is now on display in the entrance way of Cainsbay Kirk, which is located just two miles to the west of John o’Groats.