Thurso Visitor Information Guide
Thurso, While most coastal settlements have had their economic history based on the fishing industry, Thurso in the far north-east was from medieval times more of a commercial port.
As far back as the 14th century Caithness was an important grain producer, exported and the cereal through Thurso to Scandinavia. Indeed, so significant was this trade that King David II decreed that a common weight should be used throughout Scotland: the pondus Cathaniae, or 'weight of Caithness'. The trade between Thurso and the other countries of northern Europe helped the town to establish a firm economic base and in the 17th century the export of meal, beef, hides and fish all contributed to the prosperity of this royal burgh. Indeed, the town's Rotterdam Street is an apt reminder of the thriving sea traffic of former times.
- Thurso Latitude: 58.593566 Longitude: -3.522080
- Postcode KW14 WOEID 37526
When the Caithness flagstone industry developed, again Thurso was ready to act as a commercial seaport and enjoyed renewed prosperity until the advent of concrete paving blocks. Thereafter the town went into decline, witnessing a significant fall in its population until the arrival of the atomic energy establishment at Dounreay, some few miles to the west along the coast. Thurso has a long continuous history of settlement, going back to Viking times (Old Norse Thana: 'Thor's River'), and a number of its existing buildings reflect this.
The ruined Old St Peter's Kirk, close by the harbour, is one of the finest religious buildings of the Middle Ages to have survived in Scotland. It dates from the 13th century, was reconstructed in the 17th century and last used in 1862. Much of the town's layout was due to Sir John Sinclair, 'Agricultural Sir John', so called from his interest in improved farming methods. His broad, evenly spaced streets and pleasant squares built in the early 19th century are a witness to his vision. and its integrity has been largely maintained by subsequent developers. Thurso offers a good selection off bed and breakfast accommodation.
Thurso and its immediate environs have produced some notable men. In 1811 Robert Dick a baker, botanist and geologist. was a self-taught genius who was influential in his chosen fields. Almost every day he rose at 3 o'clock in the morning to attend to his daily baking chores before he finished the remainder of a crowded dav with his studies and research. Sir William Smith was born in Pennyland House. on the outskirts of Thurso; he founded the Boys Brigade in 1883. Thurso Folk Museum, in the High Street. in addition to presenting a kaleidoscopic display reflecting local life in past centuries, houses the enigmatic Ulbstcr Stone, carved with ancient Pictish and Christian symbols.
Thurso is a small town of considerable distinction and interest. It has a splendid natural situation, on the sweep of Thurso Bay, with its wide stretch of sands and guarded at either point by the towering cliffs of Holburn Head and Clairdon Head, with Dunnet Head standing majestically beyond, and across the Pentland Firth the distant cliffs of Hoy in Orkney.
Thurso river ﬂows through the town and into thebay, a long lively stretch of ﬁne ﬁshing water beloved of the salmon and trout ﬁshermen; it has its source and tributaries far inland in the hills and lonely moors, and actually runs through the length of Loch More before it reaches the cultivated plateau of the NE.
The town must have been an important centre for the Viking invaders of the coast of Scotland, who gave it the name Thor's-a literally the river of the god Thor. Their power reached its height in the 1lth cent. under Thorﬁnn, who defeated the army of King Duncan’s nephew at Thurso in A.D. L040. To the NE. of the town is Thurso Castle, now rooﬂess, home of the Ulbster branch of the Sinclair Family. Beyond the castle, Harold‘s Tower, the family burial place, is said to be built over the grave of Earl Harold, who ruled over half of Caithness and half of the Orkney and Shetland islands. He fell in battle with Earl Harold the Wicked in the l2th cent.
There are three very clearly deﬁned periods of development to be observed through the architecture of the town. The ﬁrst is in the old streets near the harbour, where l7th- and early 18th-cent. ﬁshermen"s houses have been well restored.
The ruin of St Peter's Church, once the chapel of the bishops of Caithness, is here, with the tracery of one great window still intact.
The second phase was initiated by that fore sighted son of Thurso, born in the castle, and author of so many improvements in the north, Sir John Sinclair.