Caithness and North Sutherland offers excellent connectivity to help businesses compete and grow in the global marketplace, with air, rail, road and sea connections to the rest of Scotland and beyond, as well as strong mobile and broadband connectivity.
Situated on the outskirts of Wick, and just a half-hour drive from Thurso, Wick John O’Groats Airport offers air connectivity to Aberdeen and beyond, with a daily flight operated by Eastern Airways. As well as scheduled air services, Wick John O’Groats is well set up to handle charter and other private flights, thanks to the services of Far North Aviation.
In addition to commuter services, Wick John O’Groats Airport has a strong track record of servicing commercial operations, including acting as the base for helicopter operations to the Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm.
The Far North Line starts at Inverness and serves both Wick and Thurso as well as settlements en route. Travelling by rail to Inverness by rail offers a fantastic opportunity to work while you commute through some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in Scotland – including the Flow Country, one of the world’s last truly wild places.
As well as passenger services, the line is also well set up to handle freight, with a state-of-the-art intermodal freight terminal at Georgemas Junction just outside of Thurso. Operated by Direct Rail Services, this terminal is already used regularly to handle pipeline traffic for the Subsea 7 site at Wester, and plans are in progress for a commercial freight trial.
Looking to the future, there are exciting possibilities for the line as plans progress for decarbonisation of transport in the region. HITRANS, the transport partnership for the region, has projects in progress looking at a battery-powered commuter train from Wick to Thurso and developing additional forestry traffic on the line.
The A9 trunk road connects the major population and industrial centres of Caithness and North Sutherland to Inverness and the Central Belt of Scotland. Recent major investment by Transport Scotland in the A9 at Berriedale Braes has unlocked additional capacity on the route north of Inverness, and a £3bn investment is in progress to upgrade the entire road between Inverness and Perth to dual carriageway by 2025.
Within the region, there are good bus links operated by Stagecoach Highlands servicing the main towns of Wick and Thurso as well as connecting outlying areas, and regular services to Inverness and beyond.
The Scottish Government has expressed an ambition to develop the A9 into Scotland’s electric highway as part of its ambitious push to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032, bringing with it the potential to put Caithness and North Sutherland on the front line of exciting developments in long-distance electric vehicle travel.
Caithness is well-connected by ferry to Orkney and Shetland, with regular car and passenger ferry services from Scrabster Harbour and Gills Harbour, as well as a summer-only passenger service from John O’Groats.
Significant investment has been made in all three major ports in Caithness – Gills, Scrabster, and Wick – in recent years to develop their commercial and industrial capacity.
Wick Harbour is home to the operations and maintenance base for the Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm, and is in the process of developing a High Water Protection Gate which will double the berthing capacity of the harbour.
Scrabster Harbour has significant experience in operations for the oil and gas sector, and with the recent developments of its Jubilee Quay and ongoing redevelopment of the St. Ola Pier are set to significantly boost the harbour’s ability to welcome large cargo and service vessels.
Gills Harbour has experience in the development and servicing of the nearby MeyGen tidal turbine array. It is in the process of upgrading its Inner Basin to meet the needs of the renewables industry in the region and has been identified by Scottish Government as the hub of the Gills Bay Economic Development Zone.
Digital and Mobile Connectivity
Caithness and North Sutherland have benefited significantly from UK and Scottish Government broadband rollout programmes, and most homes and businesses in the area are now able to access superfast broadband of at least 30 megabits per second. Recent commitments by Scottish Government through their R100 programme to roll out “full fibre” broadband will bring access to speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second. Mobile connectivity in the region is also strong, with most benefitting from a 4G connection
You can use Ofcom’s mobile and broadband checker service to view broadband and mobile availability throughout Caithness and North Sutherland.
For those few areas which are unable to access the traditional broadband network, a range of innovative alternatives are available including 4G broadband routers and satellite broadband.
Support is also available from UK Government through their Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which can provide up to £3,500 to businesses and up to £1,500 to individual residences towards the cost of a full-fibre connection.
Renewables developer SIMEC Atlantis Energy has announced ambitions for a tidal-powered data centre in Caithness, with power supplied by private wire from the nearby MeyGen site. The proposed data centre has the potential to attract a hyperscale data centre occupier to the region and to significantly boost the region’s national and international connectivity.