The Scottish Far North by Train From Inverness to Thurso and Wick - a review

Am I on a train or a ferry?

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In my previous blog post I talked extensively about my experience travelling from London to Scotland using the Caledonian Sleeper Night Train. In this one, after spending some hours in Inverness, I continue my trip further up North to Thurso. My final stop is Wick where I will be staying overnight before taking the bus back the next day.

As you venture to Scotland’s far north frontier, the unspoiled landscape and the serene atmosphere will probably make you rub your eyes in disbelief. This service, called ‘Far North Railway Line’, runs through the most remote and wild part of the country passing by North Sea old distilleries and salmon rivers to Thurso, the country’s northernmost train station and Wick.

Travel essentials
Travel essentials

 

The Route from Inverness to Thurso and Wick

The route coasts along the south bank of Beauty Firth and through Muir of Ord and Dingwall where it splits into North and West. After a while, the Kessock Bridge looms into view, and the Moray Firth narrows into the Beauly Firth, where the views are rather unique. The Black Isle, with the houses of North Kessock and Charlestown spread out in front along the firthside.  Do watch out for dolphins and seals as you pass by Bunchrew and Lentran. As the train follows the Cromarty Firth, you will see the historic Foulis Castletown and Invergordon, which boasts a series of murals commissioned by the local community. After Georgemas Junction, the route divides.  First, the train heads backwards to the town of Thurso, the gateway to Orkney.  Then, it calls in at Georgemas Junction again before continuing through to Wick, an old royal burgh.

Please note that the stations at Culrain, Invershin, Rogart, Dunrobin Castle, Kildonan, Kinbrace, Altnabreac and Scotscalder are request stops, and some trains don’t stop at the latter five. Dunrobin Castle station is only open when the castle itself is – between March and October.

 

Inverness

This is certainly a compact, cosmopolitan city with all the wonders and pleasures of the Highlands at its doorstep. Be sure to check out the Victorian Market or Eastgate Shopping Centre if you want to do some shopping. While strolling along the banks of river Ness do appreciate the beauty of the Castle and St Andrew’s Cathedral. As a result of its often violent history, few buildings of real age or historical significance have survived, so do check them out.

 

The train

This service is operated by Scotrail. The train was very quiet, seats were comfortable and everything very clean. No First Class available on this route.

 

Scenery

 

Thurso

The most northerly town in mainland Scotland, Thurso is a great base for exploring the surrounding area. An accumulation of traditional shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, there’s plenty of things to see and do. The number of reefs, river mouths and beaches, on top of the surfing opportunities, make the location a paradise for water-sports lovers. Thurso also hosts annual surfing and kayak championships!

 

Wick

Wick is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself all this way up North. Originally a Viking settlement named Vik (“bay”), Wick has been a royal burgh since 1589. Its heyday was probably around the mid-19th century, when it was the busiest European herring port, with a fleet of more than 1000 boats exporting tons of fish to Scandinavia, Russia and other regions around the world. But when the market dropped off after WWII, job losses were huge and the town hasn’t ever recovered, really. For more information on the town’s history check out the Wick Heritage Centre and the fairly simple Pulteney Distillery.

 

Overnight stay in Wick

After exploring Wick in the evening, I finally headed to my accommodation for the night. I chose to stay at Harbour House Bed & Breakfast

The house, built in 1864 for the British Fisheries Board, used to be home to the harbour masters of Pulteney and Wick Harbours until 2000 when it was purchased by today’s owners. It also overlooks Wick bay with great views of the harbour and marina, with 4 letting rooms, en-suite with tea/coffee facilities and Continental or full Scottish breakfast and with free WiFi. Please stay tuned for the next blog where I’ll be reviewing my room/service in detail.

 

Tickets

Inverness to/from Wick/Thurso

                 Standard Class
Advance Single                         £12.90
Anytime Day Single                         £21.10

You can buy your tickets from Scotrail or ACPRail .

 

Verdict

Overall, the Far North Line left me pleasantly surprised. Although I had zero expectations due to the remoteness of the region, it is definitely a route which might be off the beaten track, but definitely worth a visit if you are around. The scenery, the ocean and the locals won’t disappoint you. However, please don’t bother after October or before April as you will lose a lot due to the short daylight hours.

If you have any further questions, feel free to drop us a line by visiting our friendly forum, where you will always find help.

Cheers!

Panos
Often found in libraries & on trains contemplating about life. Excessive tea drinker. Travel blogger and linguist.
Panos
panos199776@gmail.com

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