Scrabster: A Complete Guide

Find out all you need to know including what to do, where to stay, where to eat and how to get to Scrabster, North Scotland.

Image for Scrabster: A Complete Guide

About Scrabster
Scrabster is a key commercial fishing harbour and one the main ports on the north coast of Scotland, along with Gills Bay and John O'Groats, which has a ferry service to the Orkney Isles. Scrabster is also a port of call for cruise ships visiting the far north and lies just off the North Coast 500, a 500-mile road trip around the Northern Highlands.

Where is Scrabster
Scrabster is on the coast of the historical county of Caithness, North Scotland. It is 21 miles west of John O'Groats, the most north-easterly village of the UK mainland, 113 miles north of Inverness and 265 miles north of Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

Crab from Scrabster

What to do in Scrabster
Although small as a settlement, Scrabster has a number of enjoyable options to do if you are visiting.

1. Walk from Holborn Head
The peninsula on the northern side of Scrabster, known as Holborn Head, has a public footpath which leads around the coast. It gives views towards Dunnet Head, the most northern point of the UK mainland.

Before arriving at Holburn Head Lighthouse, there runs a pathway uphill. Once at the top of the steep incline, you climb over the stile and proceed around the coast.

You can adjust your walk according to the time you have available, but the full walk given by Walkhighlands recommends around two hours to complete the entire 5-mile trail.

The path in front of Holburn Head Lighthouse Gate on public footpath
Footpath uphill at Holborn Head Stile at Holborn Head

2. Ferry to Orkney
If you're feeling adventurous and have time at your disposal, Scrabster has a regular ferry service to Stromness in Orkney run by NorthLink Ferries.

The Orkney Isles are renowned for their Neolithic monuments and ruins including:

  • Skara Brae, a prehistoric village
  • the Standing Stones of Stenness, one of the oldest henges in the British Isles
  • the Italian Chapel, a Catholic chapel poignantly built by Italian prisoners of war in the Second World War.

While a car is generally needed on Orkney, there are tours including one run from John O'Groats (21 miles from Scrabster) by John O'Groats Ferries. Read more about John O'Groats.

Is there a fish market in Scrabster?
There is a commercial fish market at Scrabster but it is not open to the public for purchases. If you are lucky, you can speak to a fisherman and buy directly from the boats that come into the harbour.

To try fresh fish on a visit to Scrabster:

  • Captains Galley Seafood Restaurant in Scrabster serves locally landed fish and shellfish, including fish and chips, at its restaurant. It is open at lunch and dinner over the weekend although seasonal opening hours apply, therefore advanced booking is strongly advised. 
  • A Mackay and Son in Thurso (2 miles) is a local fishmonger based on Thurso Harbour that stocks local products including Caithness smoked kippers, haddock fillets and Orkney pickled herrings.

What to do near Scrabster

1. Castle of Mey (16 miles away)
If you're looking for a Scottish castle, this is one of the highlights of the north coast. The intimate castle was formerly owned by the Queen Mother, Elizabeth and now its grounds are open to the public seasonally. More about the Castle of Mey

The Castle of Mey A flower in the Gardens of Mey

2. Wolfburn Distillery, Thurso (1.5 miles away)
This whisky distillery is one of the nearest attractions outside of Scrabster but is home to Wolfburn whisky and is the most northern whisky distillery on the British mainland. The distillery offers guided tours and has a gift shop stocking different editions of Wolfburn as well as merchandise including whisky glasses and clothing.

3. Dunnet Bay Distillery, Dunnet (10 miles)
Another distinctive local distillery, Dunnet Bay Distillery is home to Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka. If you love gin or would like to discover it, the distillery offers tours during the season and has a gift shop featuring a wide range of gin-inspired products. More about Dunnet.

4. Duncansby Sea Stacks, John O'Groats (23 miles)
This impressive formation of sea stacks lies just off the coast of Duncansby Head, a peninsula near John O'Groats, and is the most north-easterly point of the Scottish mainland. If you would like the sea stacks and some of the surrounding islands by sea, John O'Groats Ferries run daily Wildlife Cruises. More about John O'Groats.

Where to shop
There are no obvious food or gift shops in Scrabster Harbour, however from the surrounding area:

  • Wolfburn Distillery, Thurso (1.5 miles) sells Wolfburn whisky editions and Wolfburn branded products including bags, sweaters and whisky glasses.
  • Reids of Caithness, Thurso (2 miles) a local family bakery selling particularly good shortbread biscuits.
  • J A Mackay, Thurso (2 miles) a local grocery store with a wide range of alcohol and food products including salmon and butter from Caithness Smokehouse, Caithness Summer Fruits jams and chutneys, Caithness Chocolate, Mrs Taverstock shortbread, whiskies (including Old Pulteney and Wolfburn), gins (including Rock Rose) and more besides.
  • Eye Candy, Thurso (2 miles) a small gift shop with an emphasis on locally sourced gifts including pictures, cards, keyrings, glasses, knitted toys and novelties.
  • Dunnet Bay Distillery, Dunnet (10 miles) selling various flavours of Rock Rose gin, Holy Grass vodka and locally made gin marmalades, chocolates, candles and greeting cards.
  • The Castle of Mey (16 miles) has a gift shop stocked with local food products, books and pottery. 
  • John O'Groats (22 miles) a further source of local arts and crafts presents at The Gallery and North Coast Emporium.

Where to eat in Scrabster

  • Captain Galley's Restaurant: an upmarket seafood restaurant serving local fish and a more informal lunch menu including fish and chips. Open over the weekend and seasonal opening hours apply, therefore advanced booking is advised.
  • Capilla: a Spanish tapas restaurant housed in a converted church. Check opening hours; advanced booking is advised.

Other more informal options for food include:

  • Popeyes: a local harbour pub in Scrabster which serves bar food.
  • The Blue door Coffee Shop and Diner (1.5 miles) an independent cafe and fast food joint, located by Thurso camping site which serves burgers, toasted sandwiches, milkshakes, freakshakes and ice cream sundaes.

Where to stay
Hotels near Scrabster

  • Forss House Hotel, Forss (5 miles) a boutique four-star hotel set in leafy grounds by a river serving local sourced produce

Hotels in Scrabster include the Ferry Inn and the Weigh Inn.

Camping
The nearest campsite to Scrabster is Thurso Caravan and Camping Park (1.5 miles). There are also campsites at Dunnet Bay (10 miles), John O'Groats (22 miles) and Wick (22 miles).

How to get to Scrabster

  • By car: follow the A9 north from Inverness. The journey is around 2 hours 20 minutes.
  • By bus: the X99 from Inverness to Scrabster is just under 4 hours. The bus journey from Thurso to Scrabster is 5 minutes on the route X99 or 82 operated by Stagecoach.
  • By train: the Far North Railway Line from Inverness to Thurso is just under 4 hours. Thurso is around 6 minutes' drive from Scrabster.
  • Flights: the nearest airports are Wick-John O'Groats (with services to Edinburgh and Aberdeen) and Inverness (with flights across the UK, Scotland and Amsterdam, Netherlands).

Where next

  • North: to the Orkney Isles for Neolithic remains and the Italian Chapel
  • East: towards John O'Groats and Caithness for sparse rugged coastal scenery
  • South: towards Dunrobin Castle, the largest castle in the Northern Highlands and Inverness, the principal city in the Scottish Highlands
  • West: towards Durness for remote beaches and the West Coast for epic landscapes.

Drives

Inverness to Scrabster
Pass from Inverness, the Scottish Highland's major city through the Black Isle and past Dunrobin Castle before driving onto Helmsdale. Taking the A9 road internally at Latheron takes you directly through to Thurso and Scrabster.

Inverness to John O'Groats
An alternative route north that also takes in the coastal scenery from Latheron as far as John O'Groats, the most north-easterly village of the UK mainland.

Scrabster to Gills Bay
Driving east along the coast from Scrabster through Thurso and onto Dunnet, home to the most northerly peninsula of the Scottish mainland, Dunnet Head. Pass by the Castle of Mey before arriving at Gills Bay, one of the harbours on the north coast with a ferry service to the Orkney Isles operated by Pentland Ferries.

Scrabster to Thurso Railway Station
This short journey takes you east from Scrabster Harbour to the nearest train station at Thurso, around 2 miles away. The total drive takes around six minutes.

Thurso Railway Station to Scrabster
See the same journey in reverse: passing from the nearest train station in Thurso and west along the A9 road onto the harbour at Scrabster for an onward ferry to the Orkney Isles with NorthLink Ferries. 

Scrabster to Forss House Hotel
Follow the journey west from Thurso town centre, passing by Scrabster and onto the Forss House Hotel, a four-star hotel near Scrabster. This journey was made on a winter mid-afternoon. From Scrabster, the car journey to the Forss House Hotel is around 8 minutes along the A9 and then the A836.

Further resources
See our complete guide to the Castle of Mey in Caithness.