Caithness & Sutherland


         The area covered by Thurso and North Coast Free Church is situated in the far north of the Highlands of Scotland. Separated from the central belt by an expanse of mountains and hill ground stretching from coast to coast, it gives the area a homely feel of isolation, where the welcome of the locals is as warm as their fire places. Being subjected to the extremes of the weather ten months of the year brings everyone closer together making for a very special community.


          The remoteness of the area means that many more Scottish traditions are still celebrated, with family and community being at the heart of all activities. A ceilidh with a live band is never far off in any one of the village halls dotted around the country side; in Wick and Thurso the pipe bands still march in the streets and at many Highland Games and shinty matches.


          The landscape is very rugged, heather covers most of the hill ground, and Caithness is home to one of Scotland’s rarest plants, primula scotica.. The sense of wilderness does not restrict itself to the land, the coastal area of the Pentland Firth stretching out to Orkney and beyond being where the North Sea and the Atlantic meet each other, each battling for the upper hand and creating a seascape that challenges the most experienced of sailors and surfers. This is one of the reasons which has brought the O’Neill surfing championships to the area.


          Wild life is plentiful, deer, foxes, pine martins and otters can all be seen at times. The area is also a stopping off point for migrating geese and swans and a summer home for many swallows. The sea has its own rich bounty, being very good for fishing, especially cod and mackerel; this also attracting many sea-going mammals. It is not unusual to see whales, dolphins and porpoise off the coast. The area is also home to one of Europe’s largest colonies of grey seals, which come ashore to rear their pups in November, and there is a rich tradition of salmon fishing in our local rivers.


           Historically, Caithness and North Sutherland have been centres for farming and crofting, the land supporting sheep, cattle and some crops. The fishing industry has all but left the area, in times gone by most of the small harbours that dot the coast line would have had a fishing fleet, with many others employed in smoking the herring. The flagstone industry was also formerly vital to the Caithness economy and although much reduced today, Caithness flagstone is still sought after. However, one of the largest employers in recent years has been the Dounreay nuclear power plant.


           Built in the 1950's as an experimental site to design one of the first fast nuclear reactors, the plant has never supplied the national grid and is now being used to formulate methods to decommission nuclear plants world-wide. The fact that many specialists have had to be bought in to work at the plant now means that the population is very diverse, with families from all over the world welcomed into the area. Smaller more modern industry has followed, however due to the skill base, engineering is often at the heart of these industries.


          A rich environment with plenty of diversity and as warm a welcome as you would find anywhere in the world, that’s Caithness and North Sutherland.




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