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Location Map ( geo)
Caithness Flag.png
Cameraicon.png View gallery (147)
Primary Destinations
Thurso • Wick
Other Important Destinations
John o Groats
Current Highway Authorities
(Orkney) • Sutherland
Transport Scotland Roads
A9 • A99

Caithness in Scotland is the most northerly traditional county on the British Mainland. Both Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the UK mainland and the far more famous John o Groats lie within the county, which is now part of the Highland Council area.

Geography & Economy

The very end of the A99 at John o Groats

The landscape of Caithness is very different to that of the other Highland counties. There are no mountains for a starter, and the coast is less rugged than further south and west. It is not a flat county, however, with the gently rolling landscape of the flow country rising to a considerable height in places, and high cliffs along the coastline. There are two main towns within the county, Thurso and Wick. The former is a busier place, with passing trade from the Orkney Ferries as well as the Dounreay Site a few miles to the west. Wick can also be a busy town, being an important fishing port, founded over 200 years ago.

Away from the shore, there is some agriculture and forestry in Caithness, but the further inland you go the less fertile the ground, until it becomes the vast boggy and mainly uninhabited moorland of the Flow Country. The offshore Island of Stroma is also part of Caithness, rather than Orkney, but has been uninhabited since the 1960s.


The tortuous switchbacks on the A9 at Berriedale

Unlike in the rest of the Highlands, the road network is not confined to the coast and those valleys through which a road can be threaded. The landscape is generally flat enough to allow a sizeable network of A, B and unclassified roads criss-crossing between fields and across open moorland. These link Thurso and Wick to all of the smaller villages in the north east of the county.

The A9 follows the east coast from Helmsdale, and has to negotiate the deep valleys at Berriedale and Dunbeath. The latter is spanned by a bridge, but at Berriedale the road still has to plunge down a series of sharp bends before climbing through more hairpins on the far side. Work to improve the route is ongoing, but does not extend to the provision of a viaduct.

All non-trunk roads within the traditional county are maintained by Highland Council. The A9 and part of the A99 are managed by Transport Scotland. From the north coast, 3 ferry services (including one seasonal pedestrian ferry) cross the Pentland Firth to Orkney.


In his memoirs, Joseph Mitchell describes his role in the construction of roads in Caithness. He says that the first carriage road constructed in the county was that by Thomas Telford as part of his commission on Highland Roads and Bridges, which was completed in 1817. This is the modern A9 from Inverness through Helmsdale and then on to Wick (via the A99). It then continued to Thurso, probably via the A882, but possibly by the B876, as the records found so far are not completely conclusive. Despite opposition in the first instance, the benefit of this road was quickly appreciated by the land owners and rate payers of the county. In the early 1830s, they approached Mitchell, who was already a prominent engineer working on the roads of Sutherland, to extend the county's road network.

He estimated that 30-35 miles of road could be built each year, requiring 4-5 years of work, although frustratingly the routes to be built are not mentioned. In the event, the first years work cost significantly more than had been expected, and Mitchell resigned. A relative of MacAdam was engaged to complete the work to a lower standard, and so at a much lower cost, but the land owners were to regret this a few years later when the later roads started to fail while those built by Telford and Mitchell were still in good order. Mitchell was then asked to return and repair the roads to his original specifications, the total cost of all works being around £40,000.

Although the routes built by Mitchell are not specified, it can be presumed that they make up some of the classified road network of today. Approximately 150 miles appear to have been constructed, which covers the A99 from Wick to John o Groats, and then the A836 through Thurso to the county boundary, as well as the A9 north from Latheron, and either the A882 or B876 route from Wick to Thurso, whichever wasn't built by Telford. Allowing for a few short routes, such as the road into Lybster village, there are still another 50 miles of roads to be accounted for. This could include all or part of the B870 and B874 routes, and probably some of the C roads in the county.

Route From To Length


A9 Polmont, Stirlingshire (M9) Scrabster, Caithness 279 miles View
A88 Inverness Scrabster 157 miles View
A99 Latheron John o' Groats 34 miles View
A836 John o' Groats Tarlogie (Dornoch Firth Bridge) 122 miles View
A836 John o' Groats Tarlogie (Dornoch Firth Bridge) 122 miles View
A840 Olrig Street Thurso Station 0.3 miles View
A882 Wick Georgemas Junction 14.2 miles View
A882 Wick Thurso 35.6 miles View
A895 Latheron Georgemas 17 miles View
A896 Wick Town Wick Harbour 0.3 miles View
A8001 Sir Georges Street Princes Street 0.05 miles View
A8002 Wick Town Wick Harbour 0.3 miles View  
B855 Dunnet Dunnet Head 4.3 miles View
B870 Glengolly Kirk 22.6 miles View
B870 Skiag Bridge Thurso 120 miles View
B873 Latheron Thurso 23.0 miles View
B874 Thurso Wick Airport 22.5 miles View
B874 Wick Town Wick Harbour 0.3 miles View
B875 Reiss John o' Groats 13.5 miles View
B876 Reiss Castletown 12.2 miles View
B876 Castletown John o' Groats 14.1 miles View
B877 Olrig Street Riverside Road 0.3 miles View
B9159 High Street Harbour Road 0.5 miles View     
T1 London Scrabster View


Primary Route
Non Primary Route
Former Motorway
Defunct Route
E Road
Future Motorway
Future Primary
Future Non Primary
Historical Route
Tourist Route
Roman Road
Unbuilt Motorway
Unbuilt Primary
Unbuilt Non Primary
National Cycle Network
Cycle Route
Eurovelo Cycle Route


Main Article: Junctions in Caithness

Bridges, Tunnels, and other Crossings

Main Article: Crossings in Caithness

Related Pictures
View gallery (147)
School 20mph sign at Castletown primary.jpegAdvanced directional sign on A9.jpgA9 Berriedale Braes Improvement - November 2019 hairpin and cemetery viewed from tower.jpgFlag sign and traffic light.jpegJunction to A99 from A882 in Wick.jpg
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