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Scrabster, the most Northerly port on the Scottish mainland was, for several decades, the port of choice for the British Queen and her family when they disembarked from the Royal Yacht Britannia every August to visit the Queen Mother at her Highland holiday home, Castle of Mey, 11 miles from Scrabster. Today, cruise line passengers can follow in their footsteps, as the Castle is open to visitors.

options include:

Bettyhill & The Highland Clearances

Bettyhill owes its very existence to the Highland Clearances, one of the darkest episodes in the history of the Highlands.  At this time landowners ruthlessly cleared their lands of tenant farmers to make way for more lucrative sheep. 

Before the Clearances this area was heavily populated.  Between 1811 and 1821 a total of 15,000 people were cleared from the estates of the landowner who would become the reviled Duke of Sutherland.  Nearby Rosal was one of the villages cleared of its crofting inhabitants and in an unusual move the local landowner, Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, had the village of Bettyhill built in 1814 to house the displaced crofters.  

Today we will visit the older part of the village and the Strathnaver Museum which is housed in the old parish church to learn more about the Clearances and their devastating effect on the population of the Highlands.

John O'Groats & Scotland's Far North

Enjoy the drive along the North Coast of Scotland to Dunnet Head, the most northerly land tip of mainland Scotland. Disembark your coach for a bracing walk on this remote headland, with its lighthouse built in 1831 by Robert Stevenson. Take in the fabulous views over the Pentland Firth to Orkney and inland to the surprisingly pointy peaks of Morven and the Maiden Pap.

Continue your journey to John o' Groats - the most northerly village in mainland Scotland. Enjoy some free time here to explore and spot 'end to enders' - that intrepid breed who journey from Land's End to John o' Groats by all manner of transport!

You only have a short distance to travel to Duncansby Head and a short walk from the lighthouse car park here will take you to one of Britain's best sea-bird colonies, inhabited from May to mid-August with puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and more. Here the old red sandstone cliffs are eroded into angular blocks ideal for the birds to nest on and the off-shore waters are rich in feeding for the growing chicks.

A little further along the coastal path you can see geological features such as a large in-cut eroded into the cliffs (known as Sclaites Geo) and sea stacks.

On the return to Scrabster your guide will tell you more about this remote part of the British Isles.

Coastal Walk & Historic Kirk

Drive the short distance along the coast from Scrabster to Dunnet Bay to meet with your ranger to explore the RSPB reserve on this fabulous headland.  Dunnet Bay itself is a glorious crescent of golden sand and dunes; home to many seabirds and waders.  The habitat here also supports unusual flora and fauna, which your ranger will point out during your walk.

Continue by coach to Dunnet Head with its lighthouse built in 1831 by Robert Stevenson.  Take in the fabulous views over the Pentland Firth to Orkney and inland to the surprisingly pointy peaks of Morven and the Maiden Pap.

Turn inland to visit the lovely little Canisbay Kirk, frequented by the late Queen Mother when residing at the Castle of Mey.  It is also the site of the gravestone of Jan de Groot – the Dutchman who ran a ferry to Orkney and charged tuppence a trip. The coin for this denomination became known as the 'groat' and Jan de Groot became John o’ Groats.  The stone now shelters in the church porch; protected from the weather.

On the return to Scrabster your guide will tell you more about this remote part of the British Isles.

Castle of Mey

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother first saw the then Barrogill Castle in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband, King George VI.  Falling for its ruined isolated charm, and hearing it was to be abandoned, she decided to save it.

Her Majesty purchased the Castle, returned it to its original name of Castle of Mey and spent 2 years renovating the castle and its parkland.  Included in her restoration was the delightful walled garden that, thanks to 12-foot high ‘Great Wall of Mey’, is protected from the fierce winds and salt spray that blow in from the Pentland Firth.  She even managed to nurture her favourite old rose, Albertine, into scented abundance behind the Great Wall of Mey.

Enjoy your tour of the Castle and her gardens today with your guide and learn more about why this property was so close to The Queen Mother’s heart and also about Prince Charles’ commitment to the future of Castle of Mey.

During your time here enjoy refreshments and home-baking in the castle’s tearoom.  On the way back to the pier, you will have a brief stop at Duncansby Head, the most northerly point on the British mainland, which is an RSPB reserve and home to a lighthouse built by Robert Stevenson in 1831.

Tours in Scrabster

  Castle of Mey
  Bettyhill & The Highland Clearances
  John O'Groats & Scotland's Far North
  Coastal Walk & Historic Kirk

Ports in Scotland

Holy Loch
Iona & Staffa
Thanks to Scottish Viewpoint,Royal Yacht Britannia and Historic Scotland for images