John o' Groats

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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John o' Groat's House, a quondam octagonal domicile in Canisbay parish, NE Caithness, on the flat downy shore of the Pentland Firth, 1¾ mile W of Duncansbay Head and 18 miles N of Wick. Its legend is told as follows:-During the reign of James IV., a Lowlander of the name of Groat-or, according to some versions, a Dutchman of the name of John de Groot-arrived along with his brother in Caithness, bearing a letter from the King, which recommended them to the gentlemen of the county. They procured land at this remote spot, settled, and became the founders of families. When the race of Groat had increased to the number of eight different branches, the amity which had hitherto characterised them was unfortunately interrupted. One night, in the course of some festivity, a quarrel arose as to who had the best right to sit at the head of the table next the door; high words ensued, and the ruin of the whole family, by their dissension, seemed at hand. In this emergency, however, one of them, John, rose, and having stilled their wrath by soft language, assured them that at their next meeting he would settle the point at issue to the satisfaction of all. Accordingly, he erected upon the extreme point of their territory an octagonal building, having a door and window at every side, and furnished with a table of exactly the same shape; and when the next family festival was held, he desired each of his kin to enter at his own door, and take the corresponding seat at the table. The perfect equality of this arrangement satisfied all, and their former good humour was thus restored. There are many different versions of the above story, but all bearing a resemblance to the well-known legend of the Knights of the Round Table. One version represents John, the ingenious deviser of the octagonal house, to have been the ferryman from Canisbay to Orkney. The site of the house is only marked by an outline on the turf; but in 1875-70 a good hotel was built hard by, with an appropriate octagonal tower, which commands a magnificent view. The only European cowry known (Cyprœa Europea) is cast up here by the tide, along with quantities of other beautiful shells, and bears the name of ' John o' Groat's buckie.'-Ord. Sur., sh. 116, 1878.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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