When I joined Dooyoo I searched for Thurso and found it had no reviews. I'm shocked! So I set out to write one myself. Thurso is my hometown, where I've lived most of my life (minus 4 years for uni) so I figured I'd try and write a review that would benefit anyone planning moving here, or planning a holiday.
Incidentally, the picture of the castle is most definitely not Thurso. I might see if I can take a pic of one of my favourite views and see if dooyoo will change it =)
Not sure how many people will have heard of Thurso, so for those who haven't, it's the most northern town in mainland Britain, right up on the north coast. It's about 15-20 miles from John O Groats (digressing a bit here but for those that don't know, John O Groats is NOT the most northern point of Britain as is the widely held view - Dunnet Head is. Sorry, I'm pedantic about that). Thurso is one of two towns in the county of Caithness, the other town being Wick, and has a population of around 20,000.
The nearest city is Inverness which is 110 miles away down the A9. The A9 north of Inverness is quite an experience and not for the faint hearted!! It is also possible to get the train or bus from Inverness.
Thurso is built around the River Thurso and was an important Norse port back in the 13th century and is infact named after the norse words for "Thor's River". It was also a major fishing port for many years.
The town was developed in the 19th century by Sir John Sinclair who built a large section of the town in a "grid" pattern, a bit like a lot of noughts and crosses boards stuck together!!
In the 1950s the Dounreay Nuclear Reactor was built just along the coast so a new housing estate, called Pennyland, was built to house the many workers that moved to the area to work there. In order to differentiate between the locals and incomers, the local shops categorised each customer as either "local" or "atomic". To this day, Pennyland is still often referred to as "the atomics" as a throwback to the 50s. Dounreay had a huge effect on the town, increasing the population from a meagre 2500 to over 12000, which dropped to 9000 by the mid-60s.
WHAT TO DO
Shopping isn't something Thurso is renowned for. It has a pleasant town centre with a few nice gift shops. They're not the traditional tacky shops with furry haggises and plastic loch ness monsters (though you might get the odd one!)but with decent quality although in some cases pricey items. There are 3 supermarkets in the town - the co-op, Tesco and Lidl, all within walking distance of the town centre. There's also a few pricey clothes shops and a couple of charity shops. There's a lovely grocers shop called Mackay's on Traill Street which is like an Aladdin's cave, with a mixture of local produce and run-of -the-mill groceries. Definitely worth a visit. A Woolworths, a 99p shop, a health food shop, a sports shop, a couple of jewellers, a fantastic sweet shop called Brass's... The fish shops, butchers and bakers are all good. The shops are worth a visit but you'd get round them all in one day.
My favourite part of the town! Thurso has a small sandy beach with a lovely Victorian esplanade which is perfect for a stroll - either on a good day with the sun shining or a ferocious day with the seas pray on your face. At the far end of the esplanade are some stairs which take you onto the cliffs and you ca walk for a couple of miles. On a good day this is a beautiful walk and I highly recommend it. You can see across Thurso Bay to Scrabster and across the Pentland Firth to Orkney, which looks mysterious and hazy on the horizon. You can actually walk right round to Scrabster, which is a small fishing port just round the coast, where you can get a pint of cold beer in Popeyes bar then watch the fishing boats land their catch before starting the long walk back to the town!!
A walk up the river is a must on a nice day. Unfortunately the bridge that was further up the river was washed away in storms a few years ago and has yet to be replaced so you'll need to walk up and back along the same side, which is a shame as each side is very different. One side is shaded by trees and has a wide path right on the river's edge. It's a nice cool walk. The other side has a smaller path further back from the river and is treeless. Instead wild flowers as tall as yourself line either side of the path (its my favourite side of the river). You can also take a walk up to the salmon pool on this side, which I highly recommend as its wonderfully peaceful, with no sound except the bubbling water. You feel as if your miles away from civilisation whereas you're less than ten minutes from the town. The cemetery is in that area aswell and is a lovely, open peaceful place (as cemeteries generally are, I suppose!).
You're also very likely to spot mallards and otters while walking along the river, aswell as a variety of finches.
Thurso doesn't have much in the way of independent restaurants, most of them are attached to hotels. Exceptions are the Bistro, which is good for evening meals, and Y-Not Bar and Grill which does nice snacks. All the hotels have good restaurants, in my opinion, but my recommendations would be Top Joes or the Holborn for cheap tasty snacks or the Pentland Hotel for a posh evening meal. Scrabster, which is nearby, has a great steak restaurant and a seafood restaurant which are both pricey but very tasty. There are 3 Chinese takeways, 2 Indian takeaways and 2 chippies - all good.
Pub-wise, you'll be welcome anywhere and won't get any hassle from the locals (we're a friendly bunch!). Y-Not and the Newmarket are good bars and often have live bands. The British Legion has live music on a Saturday, mainly of the country and western variety. Top Joes, the Holborn and the Commercial are good bars for a quiet drink or a bit of banter with the locals. The only night club is Skinandis - personally I wouldn't recommend it as nightclubs aren't my thing, plus you have to be in by midnight which is a pain. It costs about £7 to get in and the DJs play a mix of music. It occasionally has live music, but costs more to get in.
If you fancy holiday-ing here I would suggest shopping around as some of the hotels are quite expensive so you will probably get a B&B far cheaper.
Thurso has a two-screen cinema, ten-pin bowling, a gym, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a bowling club, a squash club and a library. It's also a top area for surfing and regularly hosts the O Neills world surfing championships.
Old St Peter's Church, near the harbour, is worth a visit. It dates from around 1220 but is in surprisingly good nick. One window is carved from a single piece of stone and is thought to be the largest of its type in the world. It's also been known for people to come across bones while in the churchyard, which is a little freaky, so be aware.
It's quiet, it's relatively crime free, there's lots of space and fresh air. It's only minutes away from beautiful countryside. On the down side, there are few job opportunities, plus its geographically quite isolated from the rest of the UK. A mere trip to Glasgow or Aberdeen for something as minor as a gig, is generally an overnight stay and can cost up to £100 when transport/accomodation is taken into account. Also petrol is more expensive here than in the rest of the UK (no one can tell us why). House prices, however, are relatively cheap compared to elsewhere.
Thurso hasn't a massive amount to offer tourists and you could experience most of it in a couple of days. However the county of Caithness itself has a lot of history as well as some spectacular secluded beaches and some lovely countryside walks so if you like the great outdoors or the countryside then Thurso would be a great base to explore the whole county. I would also recommend a trip to Orkney if you make it up this far as Orkney is probably one of the most magical places you'll ever go to. It's steeped in so much history and is well worth a visit.