Flow Country, Caithness, Highlands

Outdoors

Inverness to Thurso & Wick by rail

The far north of Scotland is home to unspoiled landscapes perfect for a relaxing break, but it's still easy to get there by train. Trains run north from Inverness to Thurso and onto Wick in just four and a half hours.

Use the Spirit of Scotland Travelpass on the Far North Line, which gets you 4-days unlimited travel over 8 consecutive days for £149, or 8-days unlimited travel over 15 consecutive days for £189.

Transport

Train Bus Walk

Days

3

Miles

160

Route

Inverness to Thurso and Wick

Highlights

Dramatic Highland scenery, whisky distilleries, golf courses, delightful villages and romantic castles.

Areas Covered

North Highlands

Day 1

overview

Dingwall & Invergordon

After leaving Inverness Rail Station, the train sweeps along the southern bank of the Beauly Firth.

Far North Line stops to get off and explore:

  • the charming village of Beauly
  • the market town of Dingwall, which sits at the head of the Cromarty Firth
  • Invergordon, the mural town of the Highlands
  • Miles

    15

  • Km

    24

  • Stops

    2

  • Transport

    Bus Walk

Dingwall

Dingwall has been an important place in the Highlands, ever since the arrival of the Vikings in Scotland in 800 AD. It has an ideal position at the head of the Cromarty Firth which has seen it prosper from the North Sea oil boom.

Dingwall is a quaint market borough, thanks to its attractive High Street lined with red-sandstone buildings and excellent cafés and shops.

Look out for:

Dingwall Museum sits in the town's most striking building, which has a central tolbooth tower dating back to 1730.

Invergordon

Invergordon in Sutherland is a former naval base and stopping point for cruise passengers coming into the Highlands.

The town has become an outdoor art gallery thanks to a local collective called Invergordon off the wall. On the side of several buildings you'll find large bright murals illustrating the social and industrial heritage of Dingwall.

Take a short bus journey west or the train to visit Dalmore Distillery, which has produced a single malt whisky since 1839.

Day 2

overview

Tain to Dunrobin Castle

The Far North Line moves towards the coast now, heading along the Dornoch Firth as far as Culrain and across the Kyle of Sutherland. You'll then head inland again through endless expanses of rolling farmland. At the last moment, the line veers east again to meet the North Sea.

This part of the route is lined with several rural town stations, all great to explore.

Look out for:

  • Tain, Scotland's oldest Royal Burgh set on the south shore of the Dornoch Firth
  • Culrain, a small settlement but a great base for exploring the surrounding countryside
  • Rogart, a pretty village beside a nature reserve and wood
  • Dunrobin Castle, one of the most secluded stretches of land but home to scandalous castles, invigorating games of golf and accessible walks through untouched wilderness
  • Miles

    65

  • Km

    105

  • Stops

    4

  • Transport

    Bus Walk

Dunrobin Castle, Golspie © Paul Tomkins

Tain

Culrain

The west entrance of the delightful Carbisdale Woods sits just outside Culrain, and has lovely views of the Kyle of Sutherland, as well as the Dornoch Firth.

Take the leisurely footpath into the Kyle of Sutherland via a footbridge to Invershin, where there are bus services available to and from Lairg, Bonar Bridge, Ardgay and Tain.

A little further west of Culrain is a hamlet called Hilton. From there you can walk or cycle via forest tracks to Ardgay and into the delightful Strathcarron.

Rogart

Rogart sits beside Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve and Balblair Wood.

A haven for all kinds of indigenous species from deer to pine martens, take the circular walk hugging the shoreline, inhaling the fragrant Scots pine-scented air while gazing at distant mountain views.

Many more shy creatures can also be found in the enchanted Balblair Wood among shady glades, and clearings carpeted with wildflowers and berries. It also offers a playground for mountain bikers with two waymarked cycle paths filled with plenty of twists and turns.

Something a bit different

Sleeperzzz is a first-class train carriage that has been converted into a family-friendly hostel.

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle Station takes its name from the grandiose home of the Dukes of Sutherland.

The 3rd Duke was the country's wealthiest aristocrat and a confirmed train fanatic. He personally financed the extension of the Far North Line as far west as Lairg, the heart of what was then Sutherland's profitable sheep-farming industry.

The magnificent Dunrobin Castle is the largest house in the Highlands. Crowned with a myriad of fairytale towers and turrets, Dunrobin is unique for resembling a vast French château rather than the baronial stronghold typical of the Highlands.

Its lavishly furnished interior, sprawling formal gardens, and grounds which stretch as far as the sea, are nothing short of breathtaking.

Day 3

overview

Helmsdale to Wick

For your third day following the Far North Line, you'll go to Helmsdale in Flow Country, a vast expanse of peaty bogland.

This landscape might look pretty empty, but it's home to an extremely precious peatland ecosystem unique in the world and protected by the RSPB.

The final stretch of the line sees the train head north first to Thurso. It then comes back again and finishes in the east at Wick.

  • Miles

    69

  • Km

    111

  • Stops

    4

  • Transport

    Bus Walk

Flow Country, Caithness, Highlands

Helmsdale

Helmsdale is an old herring port with white-washed housing clustered against the hills. It's one of the most picturesque stops on the rail line.

Dating from the 1800s it was built to accommodate inland settlers forcibly evicted from their homes during the Highland Clearances. The Emigrants Statue looking out to sea is a poignant memorial to this part of Scottish history. Find out more at the Timespan Museum and Arts Centre. It also houses exhibitions by local and visiting artists.

Did you know?

The River Helmsdale is a great spot for fishing.

Forsinard

Stop off at the remote Forsinard to visit RSPB Forsinard Flows in summer when this protected boggy peatland comes alive with breeding golden plovers, hen harriers and greenshank, buzzing insects and flourishing plantlife.

Thurso

Thurso is the most northerly town in mainland Scotland. Perched on the north coast of Caithness, its view extends to the cliffs of Dunnet Head, the Isle of Hoy, and at least one Orcadian isle on a clear day.

Thurso is usually thought of as a gateway to other places but there is plenty to explore. Caithness Horizons is a sleek, modern museum and cultural centre inside what was originally Thurso Town Hall and the Carnegie Library. The magnificent Pictish stones on display are worth the entrance fee alone.

Wick

Wick is a bustling harbour town with a busy fishing industry. It even boasts its own airport!

Wick's ornate, sturdy buildings recall a medley of influences and time periods. Immerse yourself fully in the history at the Wick Heritage Centre in Pultneytown - its sister town located south across the river. It's also home to the Old Pulteney Distillery.