Safe Haven at Keiss Harbour House

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

Keiss Harbour House, near Wick, Caithness, Scotland

Outside of Scotland’s cities accommodations are of a few types: B&Bs, small hotels, and self-catered houses. When I’m traveling solo I prefer the social aspects of B&Bs and small hotels, but when I’m traveling with a group or just with Sarah I like to add self-catered houses to the mix. Not only are self-catered accommodations highly cost effective, you generally get a taste of what it might be like to live wherever you’re staying.

I traveled around the North Coast 500 last year with Sarah and my parents and happened upon quite a unique self-catered house in the small town of Keiss, just north of Wick in Caithness. The Keiss Harbour House is a large and sturdy stone building that was built as a fishing station for the stout harbor beneath its windows. The building was restored and converted into a contemporary house ten years ago, though the exterior belies little of what lies within.

We arrived to the Harbour House after a long drive along the north coast from Durness that took in Loch Eriboll, Castle Varrich, and Wolfburn Distillery in Thurso. The setting of the house couldn’t be more perfect — secluded from Thurso and Wick and with our own fishing harbor looking out across the North Sea.

What greeted us upon entering the old harbor station was an immense mansion, I daresay, with corridors running the length of both floors. There were four of us in my party, but the Keiss Harbour House could easily and comfortably accommodate a party of 12. Old nautical maps and paraphernalia hung upon the walls illuminated by the windows overlooking the harbor. I liked how all of the bedrooms were on the lower floor beneath the common areas.

The main living area is a massive room with bold styling. As you can see, the walls are a bright magenta that might not be to everyone’s tastes (including some in my party), but in the evening I found the warming color not a bother. I loved the airy, great hall-style living area with its massive wooden dining table, wooden floors, maritime books and maps, and bottle of Old Pulteney 12. You could sit in here near one of the two fireplaces and hear people in the kitchen cooking, and I really liked that in such a large place it still felt like we were all together.

The kitchen possessed all the utensils and appliances you could need, and we spent one night making a hearty batch of Cullen Skink with smoked haddock acquired from the wonderful Caithness Smokehouse. It seemed only appropriate staying in the old harbor fishing station.

A stairway near the entry led down to a darkened hallway and all five bedrooms. Downstairs we found three double bedrooms, two of which had balconies, a twin bedroom, and a bunk room perfect for children. Both bathrooms are down here, one with a handheld shower and the other being a standard shower room with the addition of a steam room. We also found the laundry facilities, but, unfortunately, the dryer wasn’t working during our stay. Normally this isn’t a big deal — I just hang clothes on drying racks, rails, etc., but one impact of being so near the harbor and having another level beneath the house that is still used by the local fishermen was that it was quite humid in the lower level. This made it difficult to air-dry clothes and contributed to mildew. About those fishermen — you might hear them loading/unloading equipment from the storage rooms beneath the house.

The bedrooms were tidy and updated to contemporary style without being ostentatious. The room Sarah and I chose had gorgeous exposed beams. Going to sleep in such a large place I could definitely feel the history in these old stones, a feeling that reminded me of my night at Brodie Castle.

One morning I explored the area around the harbor. It’s a pretty, wind-whipped slice of Caithness coast where I found old fishing boats, grazing cattle, and even an ancient broch that had yet to be excavated!

The Keiss Harbour House is ideally located to explore all of Caithness, including Wick, Thurso, and the coast, and you could even use it as a base for doing a daytrip to Orkney. Its size means it suits large groups comfortably, and it would make a great place to hunker down for a week to ferret out all of Caithness’s gems.

Alison WilkinsonNo Gravatar October 18, 2017 at 3:42 PM

I feel the need to go back and spend time just being in the wild remote areas to walk and be amongst it all and be with the history which for me seems to ooze out of the land and the stones
Every step feels as if I am treading where many have gone so long before and the seemingly wild Highlands feel alive with the energy of those who have found refuge and a life there for centuries
Keith this blog has brought back so many memories
I feel any book you chose to write bringing together these snippets of your travels would be well read by many I’m sure
Thank you once again for your part in making a long held dream of mine come true

I am sorely tempted to return to Scotland and those places where I too have left a piece of my heart

What is this that draws us this way !!!
King regards

Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 19, 2017 at 7:59 AM

It wouldn’t be a quest if we knew the answers. Glad I could help, Alison.

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