Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Nearly two weeks ago now my daughter and I went along to a regeneration weekend at John O'Groats.

yes, its the John O Groats ferry

Many of you no doubt know it as just a name, bandied about when hardy souls venture from John O'Groats to Lands End or vice versa. It's the most Northerly part of the Mainland British Isles (well actually it isnt, that's Dunnet Head, but popular opinion is all that matters I suppose) and is frequently the end of the road for charitable persons, knackered but proud of their achievements with a smile and a photograph at the signpost.  As such it should be a special place....but at least for the last 12 years it has been a bit of an eyesore.

When I first came to Caithness in 1999 my father-in-law took me to JoG on a typical Caithness driech day, and I can remember a massive sense of disappointment as we drove into the car park. The old Hotel, with its octagonal tower, once a place of Victorian comfort and splendour, was derelict, standing near the harbour and a small complex of shops amid a huge car park. This is what all those people saw as they started or finished their gruelling journeys. The summer sunlight didn make it seem much better.

looking towards one of the little beachs

Over the years I've visited JoG often, gone for a wander into the little shops (one of my favourite local artists, David Body, has a lovely pottery shop there) and had a cuppa in the little cafe attached to a woollen mill shop. The view over to Stroma and the Orkneys is spectacular and it could actually be a lovely place if only it could be "done up". But the hotel has always loomed over the place like a ghost just waiting to be noticed. Reading about H.V. Morton's journey north and his stay at the hotel in the 1920s, it is such a shame that the hotel has been left for dead.

For at least as long as I have been in the county there has been talk of regeneration, but no matter how hard the locals have tried nothing has happened. The hotel has had absentee owners, and out of sight, out of mind really does ring true here. But things are finally moving.....cue the other weekend.

artwork created from local shells and a lobster pot looks over the Firth

Artists were invited to create a mini festival...the owners of the hotel have plans all ready to revamp the hotel and create self contained units...the regeneration ball has started rolling. It's a pity that there didn't seem to be any local artists involved (after all the county is full of artists), but there were problems with tenders and as I dont know much about it I wont comment, however there was a good atmosphere that weekend. An artist created 100 small wooden boats that were launched into the Pentland Firth (one has floated to Orkney), a potter created groatie buckies (little conch shells found at the beach on JoG) with the help of local school children (dtr couldnt find hers unfortnately) which would be launched into the harbour, there was storytelling and a number of other activities...and the hotel had been painted to be made into its own artwork.

Pottery shells on the harbour wall

I hope that this is the start of something good for the area. The sun was shining, there was no wind (usually the wind blowing off the Pentland Firth was knock you sideways) and there were lots of people smiling. The painted hotel brought a mixed reception...I personally didn't like it, I thought it made a mockery of what was once a beautiful building...but the paint will fade in about ten weeks so it isn't a permanent fixture. What is important is that something is finally happening. The locals are a friendly bunch but only so much can be done with good intentions, I hope this is the start of a real regeneration...with a happy ending.

The John O Groats hotel....once white, now multi-coloured

burning furniture falling out of the building

hmmmm. Circus tents anyone?


  1. It looks lovely and I hope it does rejuvenate the area. I love reading about communities coming together like this, it's so important and not done as much as it should be.


  2. very true...unfortunately when the owner of a building lives away its hard to get things done.

    Im more positive about this one...fingers crossed :) xx