John Belushi’s secret hideaway near Wick

Comedian and actor John Belushi was at the height of The Blues Brothers craze when he hid out in a Caithness castle, mingled with the locals, went fishing for mackerel and bought a new set of hats from a shop in Wick.

Colin Bruce, aged 15, with John Belushi at Wick Airport and wearing the Walkman gifted by the star
Colin Bruce, aged 15, with John Belushi at Wick Airport and wearing the Walkman gifted by the star

It was summer 1980 and The Blues Brothers had already smashed the box office on its opening in the United States.

Belushi arrived in Scotland looking for some anonymity ahead of the film’s premier in London and took root at windswept Freswick Castle, which stands on a bay just south of John O’ Groats, with his wife Judy.

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Jimmy Bruce, then a lorry driver with Highland Regional Council, had been asked by a friend - the local undertaker - to chauffeur the couple while they stayed in the area.

Freswick Castle in Caithness, where John Belushi took refuge at the height of his fame

Mr Bruce’s son Colin clearly remembers when Belushi rocked up the area - and the summer holidays when he befriended a Hollywood star.

Colin, 50, who now lives in Canada, spent several days touring the local area with Belushi - completely unaware of his fame - and was even gifted his loaded Walkman before he departed from Wick Airport.

Mr Bruce, said: “The main reason the Belushis selected Caithness was for the anonymity. He kept commenting on the fact that no one recognised him, He found that strange but loved the friendliness of all the people he met without any complications. There were no autograph hunters after him.”

Colin said he remembered how at ease his late father had been with Belushi and his Freswick host, Captain Gerald Newell of Staffa, with Mr Bruce taken aback by the amount of luggage the couple had - which took two trips to the airport to collect.

John Belushi in The Blues Brothers with co-star Dan Ackroyd

Colin added: “One day, we took the Belushis to Wick and we walked around the town, again they could not believe no one recognised them but most people said hello.

“They needed bodyguards with them at all times back in the States. John bought hats in Fred Shearers and Mowat’s the drapers, as well as a tweed type jacket. He couldn’t get over that this small town had hats that fitted him off the peg as in LA he had to get them made to order.”

Next stop on the tour of Wick was the North Baths and the Trinkie - both outdoor swimming pools.

“They could not get their heads round the fact that people could swim in such cold water,” Colin said.

“They loved the harbour and they wanted to buy fish for their dinner, but my dad knowing most of the fishermen, got them a ‘fry’ which was a bag of haddock from one of the boats that were landing fish at the time. Once more they could not believe that.

“Next stop was Taco Nolff’s fishing tackle shop to hire fishing rods for the next day’s adventure.”

Next morning, Colin went with his dad to pick up Belushi - considered one of America’s greatest comedians made famous by Saturday Night Live and Animal House - before heading on to John O’ Groats, where a small creel boat was waiting for them.

Colin said: “Before long John and I were out in the Pentland Firth with the creel boat owner and his mate fishing for mackerel, my dad wasn’t much of a sailor so didn’t come.

“I remember the sea was fairly choppy and after about three mackerel being landed John started to feel quite sick, so we headed for shore, we could only have been out for an hour and a half at the very most.

“He was glad to get off and took a few minutes to get himself together before getting back in the car.”

Next day was deer stalking, “with a camera not rifle” but after about an hour of “tramping through the heather” Belushi was “knackered” and the group headed back,

However, on the way back to Freswick, Belushi got a shot of three roe deer grazing in a field.

A few days later, it was time for Belushi and his wife to head to London and the star asked Mr Bruce if Colin could come to the airport to see them before they left.

Colin said; “That was very nice I thought.

“We sat in the terminal and he was asking if I was into music and what I wanted to be when I left school, things like that.

“He had a Walkman with him at all times during his stay. I asked him what the film was that he was in and he said it was going to be a big hit, the Blues Brothers. He asked if we got Saturday Night Live on television here, I’d never seen the show, he said he was on it occasionally.

“So just before their flight was called he gave me the Walkman with two tapes, an Atlantic Masters compilation and an Eagles tape, the Long Run. He also said he would have his record company send me the Blues Brothers first album and the soundtrack from the film.

“He insisted that if dad or I were ever in LA we should look them up - like that was ever going to happen.

“After about six weeks I’d forgotten about the albums he promised but came home from school one day and there was a package from Atlantic records addressed to me with the two albums he’d promised complete with an Atlantic records compliments slip.”

They were rare momentos of a rare school holiday in Caithness.

“I still have all the things he gave me to this day,,,somewhere. He was such a nice guy that meeting him is still something I am very proud of, ” Colin said.

Sadly, Belushi died from a drugs overdose in Los Angeles less than two years after his trip to Wick, aged just 33.

In 2004, Belushi was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

But For some, he will always be remembered as the happy man who wandered the streets of Wick, delighted with the ease of it all - and delighted to be unknown.