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UNITED KINGDOM | Saturday, 30 August 2014 | Views [497]

Depending on the source, Thurso is the northernmost town on the Scottish mainland. Sepcifically, if your source is Wikipedia or the signs around town, you will believe that. If your source is a map, it doesn't seem as likely. In any case, Thurso is very far north even for Scotland, and it is a town.

Thurso Sign

Live most of the towns we stayed in, we got off and headed towards water. And we reached our hotel. We managed to check in right before a large tour bus showed up, which was good. Unfortunately, we did need to compete with the tour group a bit later to get the wireless access code.

Our room, 203, was described as being “up that flight of stairs, then follow the signs. It's a bit of a walk, but quiet.” So my sister and I set off. Eight doors and seven sets of steps later (most of the sets of steps were only three or four at a time, but both the beginning and end featured a full flight of stairs) we were at the room. Quite the walk, but on the plus side, we were well insulated from any noise the tourists might have made, and if a fire broke out in one of their rooms, we were very safe. (All of the doors were labeled as fire doors.)

Having found our room, we were ready to try and find our way out and to dinner. The second full flight of stairs we went up were clearly attached to a flight below. Despite looking better than the real staircases of many hotels I've stayed at, the carpeted stairs led only to an emergency exit. So back through all the doors and smaller steps, easier to navigate without a suitcase.

Outside, I looked around for cheap restaurants. My sister looked for the water. She succeeded way more than I did. (If I'd wanted food quickly, I probably shouldn't have let her lead.) We strolled by the ocean for a bit. Between being that far north and the large-body-of-water effect, my sister and I were both slightly chilly, even in sweaters and jackets.

Once we were done, we followed the sign to “shops.” We found a hardwarestore. And an interior decorating store. Promising.

A bit later, we found an arched entrance that brought us back to the main street. Essentially, it brought us to exactly where we would have been if my sister had not gone “oh, water! Let's go investigate.” There were more shops, and some restaurants, all of which looked closed. There were in fact some open restaurants, they just looked closed. When we found ourselves back at the hotel, we gave up and decided to eat at the attached restaurant there.

I ordered creamy gaelic mushrooms (actually I ordered “creamy garlic mushrooms,” but they gave me galiec mushrooms instead. Apparently I'm not allowed to make up my own dishes.) and a nut entree with an intriguing name. There are times to ask about specific dishes to make sure you know what you're ordering. There are other times to just order the most beautifully named dish and hope it's not a euphemistic way to describe chicken liver boiled in sheep blood and fried in lard. Tonight was one of the latter times. I ended up with with a vegetarian dish that tasted like a latke and applesauce, only with a more consistent texture. It was unusual, but very good.

The service there was needlessly fast. We entered tentatively, not entirely sure this was the restaurant, and were quickly shown to a table and handed menus. When we put them down, a waiter appeared to take our order. Within a minute or two, the appetizers were served. We ignored the implicit rush and took our time. When we moved our empty plates to the edge of the table, they were immediately taken away and replaced with our main course. Once we finished those, servers were taking away our plates and cleaning the table and asking if we needed anything else and rushing us out of the restaurant as if they were so busy, they needed to seat people immediately. They didn't. There were plenty of empty tables imaginary diners could be using.

Breakfast the next morning was at about the same pace. Once again, my sister and I ordered the same breakfast with only a minor difference of eggs. She wanted her eggs scrambled, I wanted mine nonexistent. The waitress looked slightly askance at this, and in compensation I got two potato scones instead of the one my sister had.

Potato scones taste a lot like a potato and nothing at all like a scone. Texture-wise, they remind me of the rife that I ate in Morocco. They're about the same level of thinness too. They just taste like a boiled potato. Adding jam to them makes them taste weird, but eating them without adding anything feels strange. I never figured out the proper way to enjoy them, though I suspect with cheese and Mediterranean olives they would have been delicious.

After breakfast, we asked if we could leave our bags at the front desk (we could) and checked out. Then we went off to find Thurso Castle. To my sister's joy (and also her planning) this involved walking by the water some more.

Thurso castle is not well publicized at all. There's a footpath leading through a cattle-aren't-clever-enough-to-get-through-this turnstile and down to the castle, and that's more muddy than well-worn. And no, there's not a nicer way to get there, since the only other exit leads through private property.

 Thurso Castle

The castle is way more of a castle ruins than anything else. (Not all castles can be fully furnished Victorian mansions.) There were signs on the outside warning people not to look inside because there was a danger of falling rock. And, nestled right up against the castle was a modern house with a car in the front and a tea kettle in the window sill. Then there was more of the ancient wall remnants, and another house.

Castle wall and modern house

By the standards of Dunrobin Castle, everyone living in these houses gets to claim that they live in a castle.

 On our way back, we noticed a museum for Caithness, the county we were in. And it was free. So in we went to check it out.

 Like most museums, it had introductory information about what the museum was and who its generous donors were. Usually, though, the financing information is a little more subtle. “Project part-financed by E.U. Europe and Scotland- Making it work together. The emphasis is theirs, not mine.

 The museum was more comprehensive than I'd expect of a county museum. It had information n the prehistory and species of Caithness, its history, some of its famous people, and the Douenreay Fast Reactor, a nuclear power plant. It was like a cross between the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, only it restricted itself to people and things in Caithness. It was informative and interesting, and left me wishing we had more time to explore the area.

 But we didn't. So we bought things at the gifts shop (a necklace and book about tea for my sister. A book of how to knit Scotland, featuring instructions on how to make your own Highland Cows and bagpipes. The book caused me momentary shock when I noticed that they were knit with size 10 needles. There were a lot of stitches, so were they going for life-size models? Then I remembered that this was a book printed in the UK, and UK knitting needle sizes are opposite that of the US, so I should look for the metric sizes instead. Those looked way more reasonable.) Then we stopped into the hotel to eavesdrop on the woman at the front desk calling for more food (the amount of mushrooms and eggs was surprising. I never really think about how much food a restaurant must order) and use the wifi to find a grocery store. With that located, we set out to find ourselves lunch there, returned to get our bags, and headed back to the train station.

 Thurso was full of small town Scottish charm. You could tell by the fliers they had up. The Pipe and Drum band marches around the town on Sundays. The church had a used book sale starting on Thursday and lasting to Sunday. There were guided hikes and excursions to use a telescope. Towns like that drive me crazy if I stay there too long, but I happily could have spent a few more days there. Instead, we were going back on the train to return to the South.

Tags: bagpipes, castle, food, knitting, sea

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