The Out About Scotland complete guide to Wick Heritage Museum in Wick, North Highlands
Category: Historic building, Museum
Suitable for ages: 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 7 out of 10
About Wick Heritage Museum
I wonder how many people decide they’re going to drive the North Coast 500 and add a visit to the far-north Scottish town of Wick to the top of their ‘things-to-do’ itinerary? Not many I bet.
To be fair, you can kind of understand why most people decide to give it a miss. As one of the larger towns near John O’Groats (read my guide to that tourist-trap here) it’s usually just used for filling the car and grabbing a sausage roll before getting back onto the open road, but there’s more to Wick than first meets your eye if you take the time to have a wander around it.
I’ll admit that Wick doesn’t look particularly inviting if you visit it on a cold, damp winter’s day like I did. It’s got a slightly dilapidated air about it (my apologies if you’re a proud ‘Wickian’) that probably stems from the fact that it used to be at the forefront of the herring fishing industry, but changing eating habits mean those days are now long gone.
But don’t dismiss this town just yet, because there are a few key features that are well worth hanging around for.
First off, the coastline north and south of Wick is lovely and offers plenty of walks along quiet shingle beaches. I kind of get the impression from talking to people that they’d rather push on inland than bother to spend any time in this corner of Scotland, but let me assure you the coastline here is as nice as any other you’ll find in the country.
The second thing I like about Wick is that it’s home to one of my favourite single malts – Old Pulteney – and has a decent guided tour around the distillery with a dram at the end for a reasonable price (see the Old Pulteney website here).
And the third top-tourist thing about the town is that it’s home to one of the best hidden-gems of an attraction that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting for quite some time.
The Wick Heritage Museum sits in an unremarkable building close to Wick harbour that’s all too easy to miss if you don’t actively look for it. In fact, the only reason I knew it was there is because I’d previously stumbled onto a load of very positive Tripadvisor reviews that were coupled with photos taken by enthusiastic tourists.
Stand outside the building and you’ll be forgiven for thinking that a visit to this museum will take all of five minutes, but let me tell you a secret about it. It’s absolutely enormous inside. I mean, Doctor Who Tardis-sized enormous.
Honestly, I don’t know how they manage to cram so much stuff in there but room after room seems to stretch on forever in a never-ending labyrinth of memorabilia and historic displays.
It’s all genuinely impressive, especially so considering the entire museum has been lovingly put together by volunteers from the Wick Society.
It’s obvious a lot of care and attention has gone into creating the displays too. The society has been actively involved in protecting and promoting Wick’s heritage since 1971 and what they have on offer today is a complete introduction to the town and its halcyon herring fishing days.
Herring was fished out of Wick from the early 19th-century and shortly thereafter the town became one of the foremost herring fisheries in the world, with the small harbour crowded with hundreds of boats unloading their daily catch.
Much of the museum is dedicated to the old fishing industry and you’ll see exhibits from those days inside most of the rooms, with the fishing hall even housing a few of the original boats that were used back in the 19th and 20th centuries – complete with life-size models captaining them.
Other displays feature beautiful glassware from the Caithness Glass Company that at one time was a world-leader in glass blowing. Many of the handmade items are genuine works of art and are a testament to the skills of the craftsmen who made them.
It’s sad then that like the herring industry Wick’s glass-making industry also died out, but perhaps it’ll be revived one day. Here’s hoping.
Read on to find out what else you can do at the Wick Heritage Museum.
Things to do at Wick Heritage Museum
I mentioned earlier you might consider popping into Wick if you’re driving the North Coast 500, but if you’re a new visitor to Scotland you probably don’t know what the route is all about so I’ll give you a quick overview before getting back to the heritage museum.
The route broadly follows the north coast of Scotland over 500 miles (well, obviously) from Inverness on the eastern side across the country to the west and up, over, and back down on roads that offer an utterly unique touring experience.
The coastal road gives visitors the chance to see the very best of Scotland in a complete circular tour that takes in the regions of Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-Shire with unparalleled views at each step of the journey.
The coastal scenery in this part of the country is absolutely jaw-dropping but in addition to the scenery you’ll get the chance to explore beautiful castles, see Scotland’s wildlife up close, and experience some of the best tourist attractions in the country (especially the whisky distilleries…).
I honestly can’t rate a tour of the NC500 highly enough so if you’d like to know more about it your first port of call should be the official NC500 website which has a detailed map of the route along with details of what you can do in each section.
Anyway, back to Wick and the museum. As I already mentioned there’s a lot to see as you explore the never-ending maze of rooms, but to my mind one of the best exhibitions is the collection of restored photographs that capture life in the area from the early 1860s all the way up to the 1970s.
These photos show the people of Caithness (the county that Wick is in) as they went about their normal day-to-day lives and they’re a fantastic glimpse into the past that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else.
Most of these old photos centre around fishing activities but it’s genuinely fascinating to see people prepare the boats, land the catches and process the fish before packing them into thousands upon thousands of barrels.
Other sections of the museum feature displays of typical homes that you’d find in the 20th-century with fully furnished rooms full of genuine household items from traditional box beds to cast iron pots and pans.
It’s a real nostalgia treat but especially so if you’re of a certain age and remember the house your grandparents had when you were little.
Other treats include displays of old musical instruments, Victorian clothing, old photographic equipment, printing machinery, military memorabilia, and even an 1800s-style classroom.
Thankfully, with all those exhibits there are volunteer experts on hand to answer any questions you might have – all of whom seem to be extraordinarily enthusiastic about their museum.
It’s great to see people choosing to spend their free time to keep their heritage alive and I urge you to have a chat with them if you have the time as you’ll no doubt hear a few stories about Wick that you wouldn’t otherwise discover.
To sum up, the Wick Heritage Museum really is a genuine Alladin’s cave of memorabilia that should be at the top of your list of things to do if you ever visit the town, and I reckon the entrance price is more than reasonable considering the amount of time you’ll end up spending in there.
What I liked about this attraction
- It’s a genuine Tardis inside! You’ll be kept busy for ages
- The exhibits and displays are very well done
- The museum is a great way to get a deeper understanding of the north of Scotland
My top tips
- I recommend chips from the Harbour chippy just down the road – you’ll pass it if you follow the harbour wall back into the town centre
- Round off the day with a visit to the Pulteney distillery
- Castle Sinclair is a 15-minute drive away and it’s well worth visiting for dramatic coastal views
Photos and video
Address and map
18 – 27 Bank Row,
Click the map for directions
Prices and opening times
- Adults: £4
- Children under 15: £0.50
Open from Easter until the end of October:
Monday to Saturday 10.00 – 17.00 (Last entry 15.45)
Getting there: Bus stop nearby
Getting around: Easy-access paths (but not for wheel/pushchairs), Stairs
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Toilets
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