Drive from John O'Groats to Scrabster

Here is a complete car journey from John O’Groats to Scrabster in Caithness, North Scotland, heading west on a sunny day along the A836 and the A9 roads.

The A836 is a main road in the Northern Highlands of Scotland which runs along a significant stretch of the far north coast from John O'Groats in Caithness west to Dunnet, Castletown and Thurso before continuing on to Reay, Melvich, Strathy, Bettyhill and Tongue in Sutherland.

At Tongue, the A836 passes south through Altnaharra, Lairg, Invershin and Bonar Bridge before ending at the A9 near Tain, just north of Inverness.

On this journey, we follow the A836 as far as Thurso, before turning onto the final section of the A9 near Thurso, for Scrabster Harbour. The entire road is single carriageway.

North Coast 500
The drive from John O'Groats along the A836 just past Thurso forms part of the North Coast 500, a 500-mile road trip around the north coast of the Highlands.

Ferry to Orkney
For Orkney, this trip also passes two harbours with ferries headed for the Orkney Isles: Gills Bay Harbour near John O'Groats (which runs to St Margaret's Hope, Orkney) and Scrabster Harbour near Thurso (which runs to Stromness, Orkney) as well as John O'Groats itself which has a passenger ferry to Burwick, Orkney.

The total car journey here takes around 36 minutes. This video is accelerated and plays at four times the normal speed.

Journey highlights (with time stamps)
00:00 A836, John O'Groats, Caithness
John O'Groats is the most north easterly village on the UK and Scottish mainland. Boat trips run from the harbour to the Orkney Isles and along the surrounding coastline to the uninhabited island of Stroma and the sea stacks at Duncansby. More on John O'Groats.

The village has a small number of craft and tourist shops and cafes. More comprehensive amenities are found in the nearby towns on Wick and Thurso.

00:48 and 01:00 Left turns for Canisbay
The church at Canisbay, pictured at 01:00, is several centuries old and believed to be built upon a broch. Jan De Groot, after whom nearby John O'Groats is named, is buried in the cemetery.

Canisbay Parish Church was attended by the Queen Mother when she stayed at the Castle of Mey. The Castle was her home on the north coast of Scotland until 2002.

01:26 Right turn for Gills Bay
Gills Bay Harbour has a ferry service to St Margaret's Hope on the Orkney Isles which is run by Pentland Ferries. The terminal has a small cafe serving hot drinks, breakfasts and sandwiches. Otters can sometimes be seen in the surrounding waters. 

02:27 Mey
For much of the journey, you have clear views on your right of the waters of the Pentland Firth, as the single carriageway meanders along the coastline. Mey is a village on the far north coast, perhaps best known for its castle.

02:29 Right turn for Castle and Gardens of Mey
The Castle and Gardens of Mey are open during the summer months and offer guided tours around this historical home. More on the Castle of Mey.

The Castle of Mey

02:39 Right turn for Scarfskerry
Scarfskerry is the most northern settlement on the British mainland. On the right, you can see the cliffs at Dunnet Head beginning to emerge in the distance.

03:22 Right turn for Ham, Brough and Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head is the most northerly peninsula of the Scottish mainland and is an RSPB nature reserve given the birdlife in the area.

The left turn for Barrock, is where Caithness Smokehouse is based, producing fine quality smoked foods, sold locally in Thurso and John O'Groats. After the turning, you can see the waters of St John's Loch on your right.

03:58 Dunnet
Dunnet is perhaps best known for Dunnet Head but the village also has an attractive beach at Dunnet Bay as well as a community forest. Rock Rose gin and Holy Grass vodka are made at Dunnet Bay Distillery. More on Dunnet

04:05 Right turn for Northern Sands Hotel and Dunnet Bay Distillery
Dunnet Bay Distillery runs guided tours of its gin and vodka distillery in the summer months and has a gift shop with a range of local products on sale. Next door, Northern Sands Hotel serves lunch and dinner using locally sourced products.

04:18 Right turn for Dunnet Bay and Dunnet Bay Camping Site
The camp site at Dunnet Bay is next to the beach. Here you will also find a small number of amenities including public toilets and a visitor centre. Dunnet Community Forest is on your left. The road passes by the attractive sand dunes of Dunnet Bay on your right. 

Dunnet Bay

05:04 Right turn for Castlehill Heritage Centre and the Flagstone Trail
The Castlehill Heritage Centre is a local museum housed in a converted farmhouse which has information for those exploring the local area, as well as exhibitions. Seasonal opening hours apply. 

The nearby Flagstone Trail is a half-mile walk beginning in the car park of the Castlehill Heritage Centre and ending near the start of the beach at Dunnet Bay. The road here weaves between a small area of woodland. More on Dunnet

05:05 Castletown
Castletown is a village on the north coast with a small number of accommodation options and shops including a petrol station.

05:29 Right turn for Castlehill Heritage Centre and the Flagstone Trail
Here is another alternative turning for the museum and trail.

06:09 Murkle
Murkle is a small hamlet, just east of Thurso. The sea and bay at Thurso starts to come into view on the right.

07:03 Thurso
Along with Wick, Thurso is one of the main towns on the far north east coast of Scotland.

07:28 Left turn for Wick and Inverness; right turn for Thurso, Scrabster and Tongue
Thurso has a Tesco supermarket as you enter the town visible at the junction.

07:30 A9, Thurso
Turning right into the town, you see a petrol station and a church immediately ahead. The bridge passes over the River Thurso and the single carriageway continues into the town centre. The railway station is nearby.

07:58 Right turn for Thurso Camping Site and the Blue Door Coffee Shop and Diner
The Blue Door Coffee Shop and Diner is an independent cafe and fast food joint located on the camp site at Thurso Bay. Immediately opposite is a Lidl supermarket.

08:07 Right turn for Scrabster
The Weigh Inn is located at the turning. In the distance, you can see the water and cliffs for Scrabster Harbour on your right. The road makes a steady descent into the port.

08:44 Scrabster, Caithness
While being a popular means to arrive to Orkney, Scrabster also has a seafood restaurant, serving local produce, as well as a tapas restaurant in a converted church. Seasonal opening hours apply with the restaurants therefore check before travel.

There is an extended walk around the coast from the lighthouse at Holborn Head. More on Scrabster

To Dunnet Head
See the car journey up the winding single track road and red coastal landscape of Dunnet Head.

Scrabster to Thurso Railway Station
To understand the location of the train station in Thurso, here is a short car journey to the station, beginning in the harbour at Scrabster. Thurso Railway Station connects with the Far North Railway Line to Inverness, the major city in the Scottish Highlands. 

John O'Groats to the Castle of Mey
If you'd like to visit the Queen Mother's former home, the Castle of Mey, here is the journey from John O'Groats to the castle.

Thurso to the Forss House Hotel
The Forss House Hotel is a four-star hotel located near Scrabster and Thurso. Here is the car journey, beginning in Thurso on a winter's afternoon.

Further resources
See the full commentary to the drive from Inverness to John O’Groats, the first section of the North Coast 500. Also read our complete guide to Scrabster