Wick, Caithness

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Looking down-river towards the Bridge of Wick
Wick is located in Highland
Wick shown within the Highland council area
Population 7,333 Census 2001
OS grid reference ND365505
• Edinburgh 256 miles (412 km)
• London 631 miles (1016 km)
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town WICK
Postcode district KW1
Dialling code 01955
Police Scottish
Fire Scottish
Ambulance Scottish
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
Coordinates: 58°27′14″N 3°05′20″W / 58.454°N 3.089°W / 58.454; -3.089

Wick (Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Ùige, Scots: Week[2]) is a town and royal burgh in Caithness, in the far north of Scotland. The town straddles the River Wick and extends along both sides of Wick Bay. Wick Locality had a population of 6,954 at the time of the 2011 census, a decrease of 3.8% from 2001.[3][4]

Pulteneytown, which was developed on the south side of the river by the British Fisheries Society during the 19th century,[5] was officially merged into the burgh in 1902.

The town is on the main highway (the A99A9 road) linking John o' Groats with southern Britain. The Far North railway line links Wick railway station with southern Scotland and with Thurso, the other burgh of Caithness. Wick Airport is on Wick's northern outskirts. The airport has two usable runways. A third is derelict.[6]

The main offices of The John O'Groat Journal and The Caithness Courier are located in Wick, as are Caithness General Hospital (run by NHS Highland), the Wick Carnegie Library and local offices of the Highland Council. Wick Sheriff Court is one of 16 sheriff courts serving the sheriffdom of Grampian, Highland and Islands.


Wick's history stretches back, at least, to the era of Norwegian rule in Caithness, which ended, conclusively, in 1266's Treaty of Perth. The name Wick appears to be from a Norse word, vík, meaning bay,[7] cf. also the word viking. The Castle of Old Wick is situated about 2 kilometres south-east of the town on the North Sea coast.


Wick River[edit]

The town lies on the estuary of the Wick River, spanned by two road bridges. The Harbour Bridge spans the river at its mouth, to link Wick town centre with Wick Harbour and Pulteneytown. It stands instead of the earlier Service Bridge. Further upstream the Bridge of Wick carries the main road linking John o' Groats with Latheron and Inverness (the A99-A9).


Pulteney town is now an area of Wick on the south side of the River Wick. Until 1902 Pulteney town was administered separately from the Royal Burgh of Wick.[8]

Pulteney town takes its name from Sir William Pulteney, a governor of the British Fisheries Society, who also commissioned Robert Adam to build the Pulteney Bridge in Bath. In the early years of the 19th century Sir William commissioned Britain's leading civil engineer, Thomas Telford, to design and supervise the creation of a major new herring fishing town and harbour at the estuary of the River Wick.[9]

Pulteneytown was so named after the death of Sir William in 1805 and became a major player in the 19th century herring boom. It was built in order to supply work to the Gaels evicted during the Highland Clearances.[10] During this boom period the harbour was expanded still further by local shipbuilder James Bremner. History of this era is preserved in the collections of Wick Heritage Museum.[11]

As created by the British Fisheries Society, Pulteneytown consisted of Lower Pulteney and Upper Pulteney. Lower Pulteney was primarily a working area, built on a sandbank behind the harbour. Upper Pulteney was primarily a residential area, on higher ground.

Pulteneytown Parish Church (of the Church of Scotland) is located in Argyle Square and was opened in 1842. Additional hall accommodation has been added and the main church completely renovated to a very high standard for the needs of a twenty-first century congregation. Services are held twice every Sunday.

The Old Pulteney whisky distillery is in the Pulteneytown area. The first Caithness Glass factory was also in this area,[12] but Caithness Glass has now left both the town and Caithness.

Wick Bay[edit]

Wick Bay is an isosceles triangle with the river mouth as its apex, and the points of South Head and North Head, separated by about one kilometre,as the base of the triangle. Beyond the heads lies the North Sea. Pentland Firth line about 11 kilometres north of North Head.

The River Harbour with the ex-RMAS Fleet Tender Ilchester and windmill blades to the left and the river in the centre. The Harbour Bridge is visible in the centre.

There are three harbours in Wick, the Outer Harbour, the Inner Harbour, and the River Harbour, all of which are formed and protected by breakwaters. The Outer and Inner Harbours are on the south side of the estuary, divided from the River Harbour by a breakwater. The River Harbour straddles the river, with breakwaters on either side of an entrance about 30m wide.[13]

Wick Inner Harbour now has an extensive marina complex, and is fast becoming a base for leisure boating. It is also now a well known stopping point for visiting pleasure craft.[14]

In 2012 a storm battered the harbor, causing extensive damage.[15] In June 2016, another storm smashed a hole in the seawall.[16]

Map references[edit]

Latitude and longitude Ordnance Survey
grid reference
North Head 58°26′31″N 03°03′22″W / 58.44194°N 3.05611°W / 58.44194; -3.05611 ND383508
South Head 58°25′55″N 03°03′58″W / 58.43194°N 3.06611°W / 58.43194; -3.06611 ND377497
Wick Harbour 58°26′21″N 03°04′54″W / 58.43917°N 3.08167°W / 58.43917; -3.08167 ND368505


Wick, similar to the rest of the UK, has an oceanic climate (Köppen Cfb), encompassing a narrow temperature range, low sunshine levels and high winds. Despite its far north location, close to the path of Atlantic depressions, rainfall averages below 800 millimetres or 31 inches thanks to a rain shadow effect caused by mountains to the west.

Climate data for Wick, 36m asl, 1971-2000, extremes since 1901
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 13.2
Average high °C (°F) 6.0
Average low °C (°F) 1.1
Record low °C (°F) −11.1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 74
Mean monthly sunshine hours 43 70 103 129 181 153 134 139 115 89 51 31 1,236
Source #1: MeteoFrance[17]
Source #2: Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute/KNMI[18]


Wick has history as a royal burgh dating from 1589.[19]

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.[20]

In 1996, under the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994, the district was abolished and the region became a unitary council area.[21]

From 1996 until 2007, the town of Wick was covered by two or three wards, each electing one councillor by the first past the post system of election. This year, a single Wick 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.[22]

There is also the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council,[23] which was created in 1977, after the local government burgh had been abolished in 1975. 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 much smaller than that represented by ward councillors, and the ward area also includes parts of other community council areas.[citation needed]

Wick is within the former civil parish of Wick. The parish has that of Latheron to the south, those of Watten and Bower to the west, and that of Canisbay to the north. The eastern boundary of the parish is Moray Firth coastline.[24]

Parliamentary representation[edit]

Wick was a parliamentary burgh, combined with Dingwall, Dornoch, Kirkwall and Tain in the Northern Burghs constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1918. Cromarty was added to the list in 1832.[25]

The constituency was a district of burghs known also as Tain Burghs until 1832, and then as Wick Burghs. It was represented by one Member of Parliament.[25] In 1918 the constituency was abolished and the Wick component was merged into the then new county constituency of Caithness and Sutherland.[citation needed]


Caithness Glass[edit]

Main article: Caithness Glass

A specialist glass manufacturer was established in Wick in 1961. Production was progressively moved to Perth between 1979 and 2004. Manufacturing in Wick thus ceased and the physical connection with Caithness was severed. Caithness Glass manufactured the trophy for the BBC Mastermind television quiz programme.

Old Pulteney Distillery[edit]

Pot still in Pulteney Distillery

The Old Pulteney Distillery is an aging malt whisky production facility in Pulteneytown. The distillery has a visitor centre in Huddart Street, and produces the Old Pulteney Single Malt whisky at a number of ages.[26] Its 21-year-old single malt was named World Whisky of the Year by leading expert Jim Murray in his 2012 Whisky Bible.[27]

Like Pulteneytown the distillery is named for Sir William Pulteney, 5th Baronet. The distillery was established in 1826 when Pulteneytown was quite newly established as a herring fishing port.[9] The distillery is the most northerly on the Scottish mainland and was quite inaccessible, when established, except by sea. Barley was brought in by sea, and the whisky was shipped out the same way. At that time many of the distillery workers were also fishermen. Old Pulteney is promoted as a Highland single malt Scotch.

The distillery is now owned by Inver House Distillers Limited,a subsidiary of Thai Beverages. Other Inver House distilleries include the Speyburn-Glenlivet Distillery, Knockdhu Distillery, Balblair Distillery and Balmenach Distillery.

Ignis Wick Ltd[edit]

Ignis Wick Ltd operates the district heating scheme in Wick, and provides heat and hot water via underground insulated pipes to nearly 200 homes from a central boiler house. Formerly known as Caithness Heat and Power Limited (CHaP) it was owned by the Highland Council. Operations are based at the Old Pulteney distillery in Wick.

The council initiated the scheme, with origins evident in minutes of the 16 December 2002 meeting of the council's Caithness committee. It was planned, originally, as a biomass-fuelled combined heat and power scheme, producing mains grid electricity as well as heat. The CHaP company was formed on 7 July 2005,[28] as a non-profit company with three directors, representing the council, the Pulteneytown People’s Project charity, and the distillery owners.

The biomass gasification plant failed to work as intended, however, and what had been planned as temporary use of fossil-oil plant became a longer term arrangement. CHaP incurred significant financial losses of more than £13 million. Therefore, in 2008, the council had no real option except to take full, direct control of the company and, by February 2009, the council had to accept that the original biomass plant did not work economically.[29][30]

Ignis Biomass Ltd took over the district heating scheme in 2012, and has installed a renewable energy biomass plant to replace the fossil-oil plant.[31] As of 2013, the scheme supplies heat to the distillery and to nearly 200 homes, and Ignis plans to extend the heat supply to more homes.


Castle of Old Wick[edit]

The Castle of Old Wick

The Castle of Old Wick (58°25′24.09″N 3°4′53.91″W / 58.4233583°N 3.0816417°W / 58.4233583; -3.0816417) was built in the 12th century when the Norwegian earldom of Orkney included Caithness, and was united under Harald Maddadsson.[32] The castle is thought to have been his stronghold on the mainland of Britain. There is evidence that the site was occupied before the present castle was built.

All that remains today is a tall tower sitting on the very edge of the cliffs, about half a mile south of Wick Bay and of the modern town of Wick, but originally the castle had at least 4 stories as well as extra buildings containing workshops and other quarters.

During the 14th century it was owned by Sir Reginald de Cheyne who was a supporter of Edward I during his attempt to establish John Balliol as King of Scotland, although there is no evidence of a battle having taken place there. It was abandoned in the 18th century. [33] The castle was built to the same plan as Brough Castle, which is about 29 kilometres to the north/northwest, on the Pentland Firth coast of Caithness.

Heritage Museum[edit]

Wick Heritage Museum is in Bank Row, Pulteneytown. The museum is run by the Wick Society, with a strong focus on the herring-boom era of Wick's history. The herring trade relied on the export of cured herring to the Continent (in particular, Stettin and St Petersburg) and languished after the First World War.[34] The Johnston Collection,[35] which was gathered by the local photographer's business between 1863 and 1975 provides a fascinating insight into the history of the town and the industry.

Carnegie Library[edit]

The Wick Carnegie Library is now run by the Highland Council. As well as providing a general library service the library preserves valuable books and other documents about Wick and Caithness and their histories. Also it preserves a crocodile (Gavialis gangeticus) presented by Sir Arthur Bignold in 1909.[36]

The library building also houses the North Highland Archive and the St. Fergus Gallery exhibitions. The North Highland Archive is part of the Highland Council Archive Service, and holds collections of official and private papers, the earliest dating from 1589, relating to Wick and the county of Caithness.[37] Construction of the library building, 1897, was part funded by Andrew Carnegie. It is at the junction of Sinclair Terrace and Cliff Road.

Tourist Information Centre[edit]

The Tourist Information Centre is now located upstairs in the Mcallan's store on High Street.

World's shortest street[edit]

In 2006 the BBC reported that the Guinness Book of Records had confirmed the world's shortest street, Ebenezer Place measuring 2.06 metres, and containing just one door, was located in Wick (ND363508). It had not previously qualified for the record because it did not have a full postal address.[38]


There are four primary schools in Wick, all run by the Highland Council. They are Hillhead Primary School, North Primary School, South Primary School, and Pulteneytown Academy. There is one secondary school in Wick, Wick High School.[39][40][41]

Hillhead's head teacher is Ally Budge. As of January 2008, it had an enrolment of 205 pupils.[42] Hillhead has been awarded an Eco-Schools First Green Flag award for Environmental friendliness. In April 2008, Hillhead Primary was praised in a report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education.[43]

In September 2008, Wick High School underwent a successful inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education.[44] At the time of the report, there was an enrolment of 838, and the rector was Alistair Traill.

In December 2012 Highland council announced it had signed a contract for the construction of a £48.5m campus that will replace a number of facilities: the high school, 2 primary schools (South and Pulteneytown), swimming pool and library.[45] As of April 2016 a new primary school Noss primary opened. It merged the two primary school- Hillhead and North school together. Newton Park Primary School is also awaiting it's opening day. This merges the remaining two schools (pulteney and south)


Twin towns[edit]

For twenty years the town was twinned with Klaksvík, Faroe Islands. In August 2015, Wick councillors threatened to break these ties on account of a Faroese long standing practice which involves hunting and eating migrating pilot whales.[46] As of January 2016 the decision has been deferred.[47]

Notable people[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Wick boundaries those of the Highland Council ward and Caithness boundaries those of the Highland Council wards management area
  2. ^ The Online Scots Dictionary
  3. ^ "POPULATION CHANGE IN CAITHNESS AND SUTHERLAND 2001 TO 2011", The Highland Council. 11 feb 2014. Retrieved 10 jan 2017
  4. ^ General Register Office for Scotland map showing boundaries of Wick Locality, accessed 12 March 2010
  5. ^ Jean Dunlop The British Fisheries Society 1786–1893 (Edinburgh,1978) p.154
  6. ^ See Google Maps at coordinates given opposite the title.
  7. ^ Wick Harbour Authority website, accessed 15 September 2011
  8. ^ "Appendix: A New Vision for Wick" (PDF). Scottish Government. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  9. ^ a b "Sir William Johnstone Pulteney and The Scottish Origins of Western New York". The Crooked Lake Review. Summer 2004. 
  10. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/scotland_clearances_01.shtml
  11. ^ https://wickheritage.org/
  12. ^ "Appendix"
  13. ^ Cruising Association Handbook (7th ed.). The Cruising Association. p. 130. 
  14. ^ "Wick Marina". Wick Harbour Authority. 2009-09-24. 
  15. ^ "Counting the cost after freak storm hits Wick", Caithness Courier. December 12, 2012. Retrieved 10 jan 2017
  16. ^ "Storm takes rising toll on Wick harbour wall", Caithness Courier. June 1, 2016. Retrieved 10 jan 2017
  17. ^ "Climate data for station at Wick". MeteoFrance. Retrieved 26 March 2016. 
  18. ^ "Extremes for Wick". KNMI. 
  19. ^ "Wick (Surveyed in 1872)". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  20. ^ Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973
  21. ^ Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994, Office of Public Sector Information website, accessed 8 March 2010
  22. ^ Map showing Highland Council wards and corporate management areas, Highland Council website, accessed 21 February 2011
  23. ^ Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council website, accessed 22 February 2011
  24. ^ "Parish of Wick". Gazetteer of Scotland. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  25. ^ a b The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature. Philadelphia: Somerville. p. 24:588. Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  26. ^ "Old Pulteney". Inver House Distillers Limited. 2009-09-24. 
  27. ^ "Wick malt named world's best whisky". BBC News. 23 October 2011. 
  28. ^ Wick District Heating Scheme, Highland Council news release, 7 July 2005
  29. ^ Caithness Heat and Power Scheme is to be scrapped, 14 February 2009, STV news website, accessed 7 February 2011
  30. ^ Council Confirms Commitment to Wick Heating Scheme, Highland Council news release, 24 September 2009, accessed 7 February 2011
  31. ^ http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/New-biomass-boiler-fired-up-20022013.htm
  32. ^ See also The Raven Banner
  33. ^ Robert Wilson Richmond (2009-09-24). "Old Wick Castle, Caithness". Caithness.org.  Well researched and documented.
  34. ^ http://www.scottishherringhistory.uk/
  35. ^ http://www.johnstoncollection.net/
  36. ^ "Gavialas Gangeticus". Caithness.Org. 2009-09-24. 
  37. ^ "North Highland Archive". Caithness.Org. 2009-09-24. 
  38. ^ "Street measures up to new record". BBC News. 2009-09-23. 
  39. ^ [1]
  40. ^ [2]
  41. ^ [3]
  42. ^ [4]
  43. ^ [5]
  44. ^ http://www.hmie.gov.uk/documents/inspection/5102138WickHS.pdf
  45. ^ "New Wick High School contract signed". John O'Groat Journal. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  46. ^ "Wick cuts ties to Faroes twin town over whale killing". The Scotsman. 20 August 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  47. ^ Councillors defer a decision on Wick's twinning link with Klaksvik

External links[edit]