This page is a work in progress with more questions and answers being added as they arise.
Caithness and Noss Head
How dark is it in winter?
At midwinter the sun rises just before 9:00 and sets at 15:20 with an extra hour of twilight at each end of the day. These times change every day until midsummer when it doesn’t get fully dark overnight. Even in winter, days aren’t gloomy because our skies are so big.
Do you have dark skies?
Yes – we are not an official Dark Skies site but on clear nights you can see the Milky Way. The full moon is magnificent but it will reduce the number of stars and galaxies you can see, and we don’t get fully dark during midsummer. Of course, there’s a light flashing on and off every 20 seconds!
Will I see the Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis?
Maybe. When the Aurora is forecast people come up to Noss Head to photograph it. To maximise your chances of seeing the northern lights, come in the winter (from September to March) and avoid the full moon. Use an Aurora forecast website or app – some of these will send you alerts.
What is the weather like?
On average we are a bit colder than most of the UK. We are milder than the Highlands and tend to be windy rather than snowy. In fact, it can be very windy indeed, but that’s what keeps the air clear and makes it easy to see the stars. Subscribe to highlands and islands weather, or check the weather for Wick Airport.
What clothes will I need?
You might want an extra layer; you will certainly want a coat that is wind- and waterproof, and shoes or boots for tramping over the damp ground to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. There’s a washer and a dryer in the cottage. Line drying is not recommended as on windy days your washing may end up in Sinclair Bay.
Is Noss Head a working lighthouse?
Yes, the lighthouse is owned and operated by the Northern Lighthouse Board. They changed over to LEDs in 2017 so the light flashes on and off instead of sweeping round. In the 19th Century, the best way to shine a flashing light a long way out to sea was to use a rotating lens which created the sweeping beam of light; the successors of these pioneering engineers are just as passionate about efficiency and effectiveness.
Can we go into the lighthouse?
No. As a working lighthouse it is not open to the public though you can walk right round it.
Is Noss Head a Stevenson lighthouse?
Yes. Alan Stevenson oversaw its construction by Mr Arnot of Inverness; Alan Stevenson wanted to be a classicist not an engineer which is why there is a Greek pediment above the door of the lighthouse and why the 19th Century keepers’ cottages were built “in the Egyptian style”.
Where is the Sinclair Study Centre now?
The Sinclair family moved the library to the Dunbeath Heritage Centre. The staff at the Heritage Centre are extremely helpful, so do contact them if you have a specific enquiry or just want to find out more.
Coming and going
Do we need a car?
Most people come and go by car because we are 3 miles from the nearest public transport in Staxigoe, and 5 miles from Wick.
However, it’s perfectly possible to arrive at the airport or railway station and come and by taxi; cyclists can come by bike and hill-walkers have been known to walk here.
Supplies used to be winched up by boat from Sandigoe beach, but these days you can get deliveries from Tesco!
Can we bring a sports car?
We advise you don’t – it is tricky to bring a low-clearance car up to the lighthouse because the road has a high central section with tracks either side. Depending on the time of year there may be pot-holes.
Can we bring bikes?
We enjoy cycling and we are working on getting our “Cyclists Welcome” accreditation; in the meantime, we can accommodate two or three bikes in an out-house out of the weather. Please get in touch to let us know what you need for your stay.
Can we bring motorcycles?
Yes, but depending on the time of year there may be potholes, and bear in mind that we don’t have covered or secure accommodation for motorcycles.
Staying at the Cottage
Can we bring dogs?
Yes. We welcome house-trained dogs over a year old. We are near open water, cliffs and farm animals, so please keep them on a lead whenever they are outside.
How many bathrooms are there?
There is one bathroom with a toilet, wash-basin/sink, and a shower over the bath.
What food is provided?
This is self-catering accommodation, so will need to buy your own groceries; Wick has a Tesco, a Co-Op and a Lidl.
We provide locally made biscuits, hot drinks and dairy or non-dairy milk so you can have something when you arrive.
You will find cooking oil and some herbs and spices on the shelves. Whatever else is on the shelves depends on what other guests have left behind. We don’t provide butter or spread.
What equipment is in the kitchen?
There’s a kettle, cooker, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine and a tumble drier. We cook there ourselves so you’ll find most utensils you are likely to need including teapots and cafetieres. Let us know if there’s anything missing that you would find useful.
We do provide knives and a knife sharpener, but some guests prefer to bring their own cooking knives.
We provide washing up liquid, and some dishwasher and laundry powder to get you started, but you may need to purchase more for a longer stay.
What linens are provided?
We provide two towels for each guest and bed linens and duvets for each bed. If you stay more than a week, a second set of linens will be made available. There are spare pillows and bed-covers in the cottage.
What do I have to clear up when I go?
Please leave the cottage as tidy as you found it so our housekeepers have time to clean cottage and get it ready for our next guests.
What Wifi and Broadband are available?
The wifi at the cottage is free. Like many remote places it has a download speed 1MB/s – 1.5MB/s. It’s fine for email and social media and you may be able to use some streaming services, but it’s not enough for HD or online gaming. Compare the Market provides a useful table for understanding what you can do at different internet speeds.
What is the phone signal like?
Patchy – you can usually get Vodafone inside the cottage and EE outside, but coverage for other providers is poor or non-existent. If your phone supports Wifi Calling you will be fine. There is a landline phone for incoming calls.
How green are you?
We are working on our green accreditation and constantly looking for green, ethical and local alternatives.
Carbon footprint – we have a green electricity supplier and have had the whole cottage insulated and drafts reduced.
Re-use – All the furniture except the beds and the coffee table in the living room has been recovered, refurbished and upcycled. We think it looks fabulous and goes to show how well things were made even a few decades ago.
Recycle – We provide a separate bin for recycling.
Reduce – We all want things to be fresh on arriving, but we find the liquid soap, laundry- and dishwasher powder all go further and don’t compromise hygiene.
Fair trade and organic – Our tea and coffee are fair trade. Our sheets and towels are fair trade organic cotton. Our loo roll is made from bamboo and 50% of the profits go to build loos in developing countries. We support charity shops by buying DVDs and games.
Buy local – we buy local wherever we can. Our biscuits and jam are made by independent businesses here in Caithness. The pictures are by Caithness and Highland artists and feature places and wildlife you can see when you stay here. We go to local businesses first, including a blacksmith, ironmongers, upholsterers, photographers, and our web-site and logo designers. We bought items from independent reclamation yards, furniture restorers and social enterprises elsewhere in Scotland and from independent crafts-people elsewhere in the UK. Buying from chain stores has been a last resort, but we do it without feeling bad because it’s important that they do well here in the Highlands, or they shut up shop impacting jobs and the quality of life.