John o' Groats
|John o' Groats
John o' Groats House Hotel
| Caithness, Sutherland
and Easter Ross
John o' Groats is a village in Caithness, famous as the end of Great Britain. John o' Groats is but a small settlement on a wind-blow headland but it attracts many visitors for its place as the last of the land and the most northerly settlement of mainland Great Britain.
The traditional measure of the length of Britain, and the longest distance between two inhabited places on the mainland is Lands End to John o' Groats, and so John o' Groats receives also the weary travellers who have made that epic journey by bicycle, on foot, by car or by many ingenious means over the years.
The distance from here to Land's End at the extreme western tip of Cornwall is 603 miles as the crow flies by 874 by road. The fastest journey time by tricycle to date as been an astounding 41 hours, 4 minutes and 22 seconds over 861 miles, achieved by Andy Wilkinson), while in 2001 Gethin Butler achieved a record bicycle time of 44 hours, 4 minutes and 20 seconds, and then went on to complete a distance of 1,000 miles, gaining a second record. Most of us would expect to take two or three weeks over it.
The phrase Land's End to John o' Groats is frequently heard both as a literal journey (being the longest possible in Great Britain) and as a metaphor for great or all-encompassing distance.
The town takes its name from Jan de Groot, a Dutchman to whom in 1496 King James IV granted the right to run the ferry from the Caithness mainland to Orkney, which islands King James had only recently acquired from Norway. People from John o' Groats are known as "Groatsers".
Local legend has the name John o' Groats was given to reflect the Dutch ferryman's charge of one groat in payment for the journey to the islands, while others have it that the groat as a coin is named after John o' Groat himself.
The cowry-shell, Cypraea europaea, is locally known as “John o' Groat's bucky.”
The population of John o' Groats is approximately 300. The village is dispersed but has a linear centre with council housing, sports park, and a shop which is on the main road from the nearest town of Wick.
John o' Groats attracts large numbers of tourists from all across the world all year round. Not all commentary is good - in 2005 a popular tourist guide, Lonely Planet, described the village as a "seedy tourist trap" and in 2010 John o' Groats received a Carbuncle Award for being "Scotland's most dismal town". The nature of the buildings here to cope with visitors cannot, nevertheless, detract from the windswept beauty of Caithness's north coast and the view out to Orkney, clear over the water, and it takes but a moment to step away from the tourist-trap elements.
The famous "Journey's End" signpost at John o' Groats is privately owned and operated by the same Penzance-based photography company which operates its counterpart at Land's End, and a fee is payable for having pictures taken next to the signpost. The signs, including the 'John o' Groats' roundel at the top, are removed after the photographer's booth closes for the evening, so travellers arriving in the late evening or early morning, or trying to avoid paying, may be disappointed in their quest for photographs at the signpost. A free plastic signpost is situated on the wall next to the First and Last souvenir shop and the harbour.
Despite its tiny size, John o' Groats is home to two football clubs: John o' Groats and Canisbay Juniors. John o' Groats FC are an amateur outfit who play in the top flight of Caithness Amateur Football, they also enter a team into the Winter 7s which are played in Thurso. They also have the distinction of being the most northerly British mainland club. Canisbay Juniors are the "feeder" team to John o' Groats FC with many of the key first team players having played for the juniors side at one time. They play in the youth development leagues in Caithness where they enter teams at all age groups.
John o' Groat's House
The John o' Groats House Hotel was built on the site of Jan de Groot's house and was established in 1875. Although no longer a hotel or public bar, it has been described as one of Britain's most famous landmarks. It is currently closed and has fallen into disrepair although there have been plans for renovation for several years.
In 1876, Benjamin Vincent observed:
|John O'Groat's House was an ancient house believed to be situated in front of the present hotel and was mark with a flagpole now removed, deriving its name from John of Groat, or Groot, and his brothers, originally from Holland, said to have settled here about 1489. The house was of an octagon shape, being one room, with eight windows and eight doors, to admit eight members of the family; the heads of different branches of it, to prevent their quarrels for precedence at table. Each came in by this contrivance at his own door, and sat at an octagon table, at which, of course, there was no chief place or head." Haydn's Dictionary of Dates, 1876, by Benjamin Vincent, pg 408)
The legend of the eight-sided house for the eight sons of John o' Groat is an old one. The original house is believed to have been built by John Groot in the early 16th century. The legend tells that other members his family followed John to Caithness and bought lands around Duncansby. When there were eight Groot families, disputes began to arise as to precedence at annual feasts. These squabbles John Groot is said to have settled by building an octagonal house which had eight entrances and eight tables, so that the head of each family could enter by his own door and sit at the head of his own table.
Descendants of the family, now named Groat, still live in the neighbourhood.
- Andy Wilkinson's Land's End to John o' Groats site
- John o' Groats tourist information, 29 October 2007
- "Northern outpost dubbed 'seedy'", BBC News
- "John O' Groats named Scotland's most dismal town", The Carbuncle Awards