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Revealing the Vision Of Caithness Index Education Culture And Sport - Index

Education Culture & Sport
Highland Council - Caithness

Revealing the Vision of Caithness
An Arts Development Study of Caithness

3.5      The Inverness Effect

3.5.1        Perhaps surprisingly, some have suggested that the needs of Caithness people for access to the performing arts, film and exhibitions could be met by provision in Inverness. While national indicators suggest that such a solution might work for Highland towns within an hour or an hour and half’s drive of Inverness, frankly, geography is against such a solution for Caithness. The journey in one direction of over a hundred miles makes even groups’ travelling by coach difficult, if not impossible, as a regular practice. The train is even more prohibitive -- an unacceptable 4 hours from Wick to Inverness, over 3 hours from Thurso, even if the train times allowed for an evening visit, which they do not. Research over the years has established that specific provision for the arts can generally rely on a catchment area of up to 25 miles radius from a venue, dependent on such factors as drive time and parking. These figures can rise to 40 miles or even up to an hour and a half’s drive-time for large-scale opera and ballet, and the kind of popular events and musicals that groups will organise coach trips to see. These are ‘special occasion’ trips, usually once a year or less often, and cannot be considered as mainstream regular provision. The following map illustrates the effect of a forty-mile radius round Inverness for ‘special' occasions and 25-mile radii round Thurso and Wick for ‘general’ occasions:

 3.5.2        The debates in UK terms about over-lapping and potentially conflicting provision between towns are at a different geographical scale than the distance between Inverness and any part of Caithness: Edinburgh-Glasgow; Newcastle-Sunderland; Manchester-Liverpool; Leeds-Bradford; Birmingham-Wolverhampton; Bristol-Bath. For someone in Caithness to seek their arts provision in Inverness is, in terms of distance, the same as a Birmingham resident seeking their arts provision in London, but with the difference that Caithness-Inverness routes lack uninterrupted motorway or high-speed train links. Indeed in travel time terms, the analogy is closer to asking Cardiff residents to find their arts provision in London. Plainly some people travel to Inverness, and also Glasgow and Edinburgh on business, and these may add in or extend trips to encompass attendance at the arts. The evidence, however, is that a tiny percentage of adults do this, because work and travel commitments effectively prevent attendance during the working week.

3.5.3        It may help to put this discussion in context to consider the relative position of Wick and Thurso in comparison with the other larger towns of the region in terms of distance and travel time from the regional centre, Inverness.



Distance (miles)

Travel time*




25 mins




29 mins




52 mins

Fort William



1 hr 47 mins




2 hrs 50 mins




2 hrs 47  mins




2 hrs 37 mins

                * as calculated by the AA

 It is evident from this table that, of towns with anything like comparable populations, Nairn and Dingwall fall well within the hour and a half travel time radius which might suggest that Inverness could be an appropriate centre for large-scale arts venue provision for those communities. Indeed, Fort William is only seventeen minutes outside that particular travel time radius. Meantime, Wick and Thurso lie well outside such a radius. Further, while Fort William is in itself the second largest urban centre in the Highland Council region, with Thurso second and Wick fourth, the twin town nature of Thurso/Wick provides a combined urban population of 17,018 in Caithness. Its residents live at approaching twice the travel time distance from Inverness normally accepted for special events.

 3.5.4        It is clear on such statistical evidence alone, let alone any other considerations, that arts and entertainment venue solutions for Wick and Thurso have to be found through provision in Caithness itself. (Portree is the only larger community at a similar distance from Inverness. Its population is, however, much smaller at less than a quarter of that of either Thurso or Wick. Further, given the existence of the Aros Centre with its claim to be ‘the best theatre in the Highlands outside Inverness, offering comfort, good facilities, sound and light’ and its audience capacity of 197, Portree clearly has a distinct situation.)


3.5.5        One of the more interesting observations, however, is that the ‘pull’ of the provision in Inverness (and even Edinburgh and Glasgow) may be as much psychological as actual. The existence of such a perceived wealth of choice and quality, funded by the same local authority, especially if people feel they cannot have access to it, affects their feelings about the quality of what is available locally and may feed frustration. This makes it very important for provision in Caithness to achieve appropriate quality and experience, given that the majority of the population has no choice but to attend locally.

3.5.6 In other words, given the long travel time distances between Caithness and Inverness, any development of arts provision in Inverness implies a need to consider the appropriate level of concomitant upgrading required in Caithness provision. While travel time considerations mean that arts developments in Inverness will meet many of the needs of towns and villages within up to a ninety-minute travel time of the city, it is not the case that these developments will supply not only Caithness needs or, indeed, those of North Sutherland.