Running on the edge – a circuit of Wick Bay taking in the Old Castle of Wick and the North Baths
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ACTIVE OUTDOORS: John Davidson spends a glorious afternoon exploring the sights around Wick Bay in the far north
Visiting one of the oldest castles in Scotland, this route around Wick Bay brings together spectacular sea views and an insight into the past at nearly every turn.
The Castle of Old Wick – or at least what remains of it – sits on a narrow promontory jutting out into the Moray Firth. It’s hard to imagine what life was like here when the castle was built in the 12th century, with the far north of Scotland and the isles largely controlled from across the North Sea.
I wandered past the huge walls that once made up the great tower, and along the grassy cliff tops where lodges, kitchens, stables and servants’ quarters were situated. The view out over the firth was glorious on this calm day – with fiercer weather, landing or launching any vessel hereabouts would surely be impossible.
I’d begun this little outing at the harbour in Wick – which itself has a story to tell. At one time Wick was the biggest fishing herring port in the world, and in the early 19th century Thomas Telford designed and built not only the new harbour, but a new settlement called Pulteneytown, named after Sir William Pulteney, chairman of the British Fisheries Society.
It was a busy afternoon as I headed past the South Pier towards the old lifeboat shed with its bright blue door. I hopped over a low wall to avoid the lorries on the main part of the route towards the end of the harbour working area, and beyond the shed I rounded a gate onto an empty track that follows the shoreline.
The industrial sights are soon forgotten as you continue past the Cairndhuna Well and head left onto a path towards the South Head, which culminates in a set of steps that wind their way up to meet a single-track road.
I turned left here and jogged gently along, passing the white walls of the Trinkie swimming pool in the rocks below to my left. The Trinkie is one of two open-air pools visited on this route and was opened in 1931, providing a place for generations of Wickers to learn to swim.
This pool was damaged in a storm a number of years ago, but plans are afoot to improve the Trinkie just as the even older North Baths on the other side of Wick Bay has recently been renovated and welcomed back keen swimmers from near and far.
It’s not far from the Trinkie to the end of the road, from where a grassy path leads to the Castle of Old Wick. After a gate, the path continues to follow the edge of the cliffs round to access the promontory, where care is needed as the cliffs plunge dramatically down to the sea far below.
I’d been advised to keep going a little further south along the coast to fully appreciate some of the spectacular coastal scenery, and I wasn’t disappointed as I followed the John O’Groats Trail signs to the south.
A grass path goes between fenced fields and the cliff edge, so I ran with full concentration. However, I stopped plenty of times to appreciate what was around me on such a beautiful day in the far north.
A sea stack and an arch side by side, followed a short distance further on by a cove complete with an island which has its own tunnel. Today it looked so calm you could probably have taken a sea kayak through there, but I expect this was an all-too-rare day!
I continued on the southerly route through long grass to an edgy viewpoint which overlooked the firth and the massive Beatrice offshore wind farm, reluctantly concluding that I needed to start heading back now.
Having retraced my steps to the castle, I headed left after a gate to follow a straight path that crosses the Mill Lade – another Telford design which in normal conditions these days supplies water to the nearby Pulteney Distillery. The path turns right at one point then crosses an access track before reaching the main road into Wick on the edge of town.
I turned right here and ran past the cemetery and Bignold Park, the Carnegie library and eventually the old John O’Groat Journal office – now a café/restaurant. Just beyond here you pass the shortest street in the world, Ebenezer Place, which is little longer than the width of a single door – 2.06 metres to be exact – giving access to the No.1 Bistro, part of Mackay’s Hotel.
I crossed the river – or what little is left of it at the moment – by the road bridge and took the first right down Victoria Place, continuing along the road on the north side of Wick Bay after the harbour bridge. At a corner, I veered right onto a track to follow the North Head route along to the North Baths, where a few people were enjoying the warmth of the day with a swim.
Heading up the steps opposite, passing a World War II pillbox that now doubles as a museum thanks to local volunteers, I went left to follow a narrow path alongside houses and drop back down the street to reach the Wick Harbour Bridge.
This time I crossed the bridge and continued up Williamson Street – past the red and white Telford House and across Telford Street – to the heritage museum, where a left turn leads along Bank Row and back to the harbour.
Wick Bay and the Castle of Old Wick
Distance 6.5 miles / 10.5km
Terrain Mix of pavement, minor roads, paths, tracks and unfenced cliff top paths – care required
Start/finish Wick harbour
Map OS Landranger 12; OS Explorer 450
Stunning coastal scenery and plenty of historic interest on this trip around Wick Bay