WICK rose to international prominence in the 19th century by becoming Europe’s largest herring fishing port. At its peak, well over 1,000 fishing boats would set sail during the summer months to net the “silver darlings” that provided the backbone of the town’s prosperity.
The glory days of the fishing industry are recalled at the award-winning Wick Heritage Centre, which has a vast collection of fascinating exhibits.
The centre is home to the unique Johnston Collection, comprising the work of three generations and four photographers from the same local family who captured Caithness life on camera. There’s also a re-creation of the Johnston darkroom with a display of photographic equipment.
Another of the centre’s main attractions is a lighthouse dating back to the mid-1800s, boasting an intricate assortment of mirrors, lenses and prisms... all of it in perfect working order.
The seafaring theme continues with a traditional yawl from the island of Stroma as well as model boats, gear used by the coastguard and lifeboat services, and reconstructions of a cooperage, a fishcurer’s office and a kipper kiln.
Visitors to Wick can find out about the famous local whisky, Old Pulteney – the “maritime malt” – at the Pulteney Distillery visitor centre, which has its own gift shop.
The origins of the royal burgh go back to the days of the Vikings and, indeed, the name of the town – pronounced locally as “Week” – comes from the Norse for “Bay”.
The only lasting memorial of those early times is the Castle of Old Wick, a gaunt ruin on the cliff-tops immediately to the south of the town. The coastal walk to the castle – which is known locally as the Old Man of Wick – offers some breathtaking views.
The Wick River footpath is another pleasant walking route.
A few miles north of Wick, overlooking Sinclair’s Bay, is the spectacular ruin of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. For many years the site was thought to comprise two separate castles, but recent research has indicated that it was always one coherently planned fortress occupying the whole of the narrow peninsula.
The Sinclair family, later to become the earls of Caithness, occupied the site from at least the latter part of the 14th century. Work is being done to preserve the castle and improve access to the site.
Wick is an ideal base from which to explore the far north, with a wide range of hotels and guest houses. Visitors have a varied choice of leisure activities in and around the town, with putting, bowling, golf, tennis and swimming available.
There are shopping opportunities both in the centre of Wick and at retail parks on the edge of town.