8499: Thurso, Caithness

Thurso (pop 9000), on the north coast of Caithness looking across the Pentland Firth to Orkney, was a significant Viking port as early as the 10th century; the name is from the Norse for ‘Thor’s River’. The town grew around fishing and trade.

In 1798 the New Town was built by Sir John Sinclair, with a grid of wide, regular streets built to the south of the old town which was clustered around the harbour. Scrabster nearby was developed as a significant harbour during the herring boom, which led to the decline in use of Thurso harbour.

Farming and the quarrying of Caithness flagstone (which paves many city streets around the world) supported the local economy, which was however in decline when in 1954 the Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment was built to the west of the town. Dounreay at its peak employed 3500 people locally and brought new populations to the town.

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