Thurso: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article refers to the town in Scotland. For the city in Canada, see Thurso, Quebec. For the Scottish businessman and Liberal Democrat politician, see John Thurso.

Coordinates: 58°35′46″N 3°31′16″W / 58.596°N 3.521°W / 58.596; -3.521

Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Theòrsa
Thurso is located in Scotland

 Thurso shown within Scotland
Population 8,721 (2001 Census)
OS grid reference ND115685
Council area Highland
Lieutenancy area Caithness
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Thurso
Postcode district KW14
Dialling code 01847
Police Northern
Fire Highlands and Islands
Ambulance Scottish
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Scottish Parliament Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
List of places: UK • Scotland •

Thurso[1] (from Old Norse, meaning 'Bull's water'[2] and called Inbhir Theòrsa in Scottish Gaelic)[3] is a town and former burgh on the north coast of the Highland local government area of Scotland. Historically, the town is one of two burghs within the county of Caithness.



St. Peter's Kirk, Thurso

Thurso's history stretches back to at least the era of Norse Orcadian rule in Caithness, which ended conclusively in 1266. The town was an important Norse port, and has a later history of trade with ports throughout northern Europe until the 19th century. In 1330 Scotland’s standard unit of weight was brought in line with that of Thurso at the decree of King David II, a measure of the town’s economic importance. Old St Peter's Kirk is said to date from circa 1220 and the time of Caithness Bishop Gilbert Murray, who died in 1245. Much of the town, however, is a planned 19th-century development. A major expansion occurred in the mid-20th century when the Dounreay nuclear power plant was established at Dounreay,[4] 9 miles (14.5 km) to the west of the town. Within a period of about five years, Thurso's population expanded rapidly, from around 2,500 to about 12,000 between 1955-58, as the nuclear plant attracted skilled migrants from all parts of the United Kingdom. By 1960, it dropped back to around 9,000, after a lot of the initial Dounreay construction crew left the area. Thurso is also the name of the viscountcy held by the Sinclair family in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The present Viscount Thurso is also the local MP.


Thurso has history as a burgh of barony dating from 1633.

In 1975, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, the local government burgh was merged into the Caithness district of the two-tier Highland region. In 1996, under the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994, the district was abolished and the region became a unitary council area.

From 1996 until 2007, the town of Thurso was covered by two or three wards, each electing one councillor by the first past the post system of election. In 2007, a single Thurso ward was created to elect three councillors by the single transferable vote system. The new ward is one of three within the Highland Council's Caithness ward management area and one of seven within the council's Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross corporate management area.

There is also Thurso Community Council, which was created in 1975 when the burgh was abolished. The community council is not a tier of local government, but it is recognised as a level of statutory representation. The community council represents an area which is somewhat smaller than that represented by ward councillors. The ward area also includes parts of other community council areas.


Thurso lies at the extreme north of the British mainland and is the most northerly town on the UK mainland. It is situated at the northern end of the A9 road, the main road linking Caithness with the south of Scotland, and is 20 miles (32 km) west of John o' Groats and 21 miles (34 km) northwest of Wick, the closest town. The nearest city is Inverness, some 110 miles (177 km) to the south. Thurso railway station is the most northerly location served by Britain's rail network, which links the town directly with Wick, the county town of Caithness, and with Inverness,[3] which is the administrative centre of the Highland Council area. It has a population of around 9,000 residents (2001 census). Thurso lies as far north (latitude 59 degrees north) as the Alaskan state capital of Juneau and the city of Stavanger in Norway.

The town is within the Parish of Thurso, with the parishes of Olrig and Bower to the east, Halkirk to the south, and Reay to the west. The parish of Thurso also has a north-facing Atlantic coastline stretching from Crosskirk Bay in the west to the Haven in Dunnet Bay in the east.

The River Thurso flows through the town and into Thurso Bay and the Pentland Firth. The river estuary serves as a small harbour. Thurso has a fine harbour and beach and looks out over the Pentland Firth to the Orkney island of Hoy and the famous towering Old Man of Hoy (a stack of rock standing out from the main island).


Offices of the Highland Council are located in the town, as is the main campus of North Highland College, formerly Thurso College. This is one of several partner colleges which constitute the UHI Millennium Institute, and offers several certificate, diploma and degree courses from subjects as diverse as Nuclear Decommissioning, Hairdressing, Gamekeeping and Golf Management. Next door to the UHI is Thurso High School, the most northerly secondary school on the British mainland. The town also has three primary schools, Pennyland, Millar Academy and Mount Pleasant.

Thurso boasts a small museum, several hotels and bars, a surf shop/cafe stocking famous brands such as Animal, a small skatepark. There is also a sizeable British Telecom call centre and a plant making special lithium-ion batteries for the MOD on the west side of the town, which along with the Dounreay Nuclear power plant, provide a high level of employment in Caithness. The Co-operative, Tesco and Lidl have supermarkets in Thurso. There are car dealerships for Ford, Nissan and Citroen.

Thurso is a major area for surfing, and has a regular surfing championships leg on the UK Tour.

The main window of the old St Peter's Church, near the harbour, is carved from a single piece of stone and is thought to be the largest of its type in the world.


The port of Scrabster lies about 1½ miles (2 km) to the west of the estuary of the River Thurso, it is now the 2nd largest whitefish harbour in Scotland. Scrabster has deep water in the shelter of Holborn Head. The harbour includes a berth for the MV Hamnavoe, a roll-on/roll-off ferry operated by Northlink linking the Scottish mainland with Stromness on Orkney. There is also a large fishmart and the local lifeboat is stationed there too.

From June 2007, a summer-only weekly ferry service connected Scrabster with the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Norway. The service was operated by the Faroese company Smyril Line but has now been discontinued.

Dounreay remains the largest single employer in Thurso and Caithness as a whole and should remain so for the next few years as the facility is run-down.

On 12 January 2010, approval was granted for the Baillie wind farm near Thurso which will feature 21 turbines and supply 52.5MW, enough for 25,000 homes[5]. The original proposal was for 57.5MW [6].


From Scrabster Harbour (Ordnance Survey grid reference ND102704), the A9 runs generally east/southeast through Thurso, and then generally south towards Inverness, Perth and the M9 motorway near Stirling and Falkirk. In Thurso, the A9 has junctions with two other classified roads, the A836 and the B874, and in the Georgemas area, about 5 miles (8 km) south of Thurso, the A9 has a locally important junction with the A882 (ND156601) which leads to Wick. From the A9 near Burnside (ND107689) in Thurso, the A836 leads generally west towards Reay, Melvich, Bettyhill and Tongue. From the A9 in central Thurso (ND116683), the B874 leads generally south towards Halkirk. From the A9 in the Millbank area of Thurso (ND119681), the A836 leads generally east towards Castletown and John o' Groats.

Thurso is the northern terminus of the Far North Line. Trains from Inverness first call at Thurso and return there to call at Wick. Southwards they operate vice versa.


Surfing is a pastime with many of the local youths. The power of the waves rolling in from the Pentland Firth has been compared with those of Hawaii. Certainly, for those with a penchant for barrelling reef-breaks, Thurso East leaves little to be desired on a good day. On a big day, 20-second coverups are possible. Both the European Surfing Championships and Scottish Surf Kayaking Championships have been held in Caithness, with Thurso East being the main focus of activity. Thurso became a venue in the ASP World Qualifying Series of 2006 with the O’Neill Highland Open, a "5 Star" event. The success of the event ensured it returned in 2007 as one of only six top "6 star prime" events on the tour, alongside surf meccas such as Oahu, Hawaii and Santa Cruz, California. It has been an annual event ever since, with the 2009 event having a prize fund of $145,000.The competition is usually held at Thurso East or Brimsness. Thurso has a world record for the coldest waters to have the competition in.

Thurso has the biggest swim team in the Highlands. The range of the swimmers is from 4 years old and up. These are split in to lanes and squads, where lanes are the learning stage and squads are the competing stage. Thurso go away to and host many annual competitions in Scotland. The most recent swimmer to represent Scotland was Gavin Munro at Youth level from 1985 to 87.

Also there is C.A.A.C (Caithness Amateur Athletics Club) where Thurso have some very successful athletes, such as Moira Macbeath and Lynda Haygarth.

The football (soccer) team, Thurso FC (nicknamed "the Vikings"), plays in the North Caledonian League. The current champions of the Caithness County League are the Thurso Academicals FC, also known as the "Acks", who won the league in the 2005 season for the first time in 36 years. Thurso Swifts FC are the oldest surviving football club in Thurso. Another football team in Thurso is the Pathetic Sharks, although they are some way below Premier League standard and, as their name indicates, they are named after characters from the satirical comic Viz.

The Caithness Motocross Club is based in Thurso, and stages races fortnightly during the summer on tracks around the county. It also sends a team to race in Orkney Motocross Club's annual beach enduro in November, on the Island of Burray. The Caithness Car Club and the Caithness and Sutherland Vintage Vehicle Club are also based in Thurso.

Thurso Squash Club is in Millbank Road, next door to the fire station. Thurso Bowling Club is next door to the Tesco supermarket, and the Thurso Club is in Janet Street, overlooking the river.

Twin towns

Notable people

Thurso was the birthplace in 1736 of Arthur Sinclair (Arthur St. Clair), a merchant's son, a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, friend of George Washington, President of Congress and Governor of the Northwestern Territory.

The noted geologist Robert Dick lived in Thurso between 1830 and his death in 1866, and contributed greatly to the study of the fossils of the region. There is a plaque on the wall of the house where he lived.

Anne MacKevitt, the interior designer and friend of Sir Paul and the late Linda McCartney was born in Thurso and grew up in Shore Street, Thurso.

Tony Cochrane, the Glasgow-based actor, was born and brought up in Thurso. He is mainly a stage actor, but has also appeared in several episodes of Taggart.

Thurso was also the birthplace in 1854 of Sir William Alexander Smith, founder of the Boys Brigade.

Chief Inspector Donald Swanson of the Metropolitan Police was born in Thurso in 1848.

Tommy McGee, the Scotland 'A' and Leeds Carnegie prop forward, was born and raised in Thurso.

Bryan Gunn, the former Scotland, Aberdeen and Norwich City goalkeeper, and former Norwich city Manager was born in Thurso in 1963.

Jock Macdonald, a prominent Canadian painter and art educator, was born in Thurso in 1897.[7]

Dr John N Sutherland, graduate of Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities, former Professor of Virtual Reality at Gifu University in Japan, founder of video games as an academic discipline [8][9][10], was born in Thurso in 1958.


  1. ^ Ordnance Survey grid reference for Thurso: ND116683
  2. ^ The Celtic Placenames of Scotland, Watson
  3. ^ a b The Scottish Gaelic name is a translation which assumes the town is named after the river.
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey grid reference for Dounreay: NC989671
  5. ^ Two wind farm schemes approved
  6. ^ Wind Farm Proposal
  7. ^ Thurso is identified as birthplace of Jock MacDonald in the Vancouver Art Gallery publication75 Years of Collecting
  8. ^ New Statesman
  9. ^ BBC news
  10. ^ Times Higher Education Supplement

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Thurso is an otherwise pleasant Quebec town with a spectacularly foul-smelling paper mill. It is on the Ottawa River East of Ottawa.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

THURSO, a municipal and police burgh, and seaport of Caithness, Scotland. Pop. (1901), 3723. It is situated at the mouth of the Thurso, on Thurso Bay, 21 m. N.W. of Wick, and 319 m. N. of Edinburgh by the North British and Highland railways, the most northerly town in Scotland. Coaches run daily to Mey and Wick and every day a mail-car goes to Tongue, in Sutherlandshire, about 40 m. west.

In Macdonald Square, laid out with ornamental walks, there is a statue of Sir John Sinclair. A promenade along the sands was opened in 1882. The town-hall contains a public library and museum, which possesses the geological and botanical specimens of Robert Dick (1811-1866), the "Thurso baker," as well as a large collection of northern birds. In the neighbourhood are quarries for Caithness flags, which are cut and dressed in the town. They constitute the leading export, but the trade of the port is hindered by the inconvenience of the harbour. There is, however, communication daily from Scrabster pier, 2 m. north-west, with Scapa and Stromness in Pomona (Orkneys), calling at Hoxa; once a week with Wick, Aberdeen and Leith; and occasionally in summer with Liverpool. To the east is Thurso Castle, the residence of the Ulbster branch of the Sinclairs, and near it is Harold's Tower, built over the grave of Earl Harold, once owner of half of Caithness, and half of the Orkneys and Shetlands, who fell in battle with Earl Harold the Wicked in 1190. About three-quarters of a mile west stand the ruins of the bishop's palace, which was destroyed by fire in 1222. Thurso was the centre of the Norse power on the mainland when at its height under Thorfinn (1014), and afterwards till the battle of Largs (1263). Count Modach, nephew of King Duncan, quartered his army for a time at Thurso and despoiled it till he was surprised and slain by Thorfinn in 1040. In the time of Malcolm II. Earl Erlend resided in the town. In 1633 it was created a burgh of barony, and was the seat of the sheriff courts of the county till they were removed to Wick in 1828.

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Simple English

Thurso is a town in north Scotland. The town has a population of 8,721 (2001 census)


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