King of the North
After a long weekend of Kernow cream thoughts rapidly drifted to chasing the swell generating storm as it tracked north. Ireland, maybe, the islands, then it looked like a favourable convergence of swell and wind in Scotland. Not ideal for Thurso but more than fine for some of the other less renowned waves.
With a possible slim two days of goodness on offer it was a tough ask but Markie Lascelles and Skindog were buzzing from some fun sessions at Lev and filled the Skinners van with Skippy and Aggie grom Jack Coombs to spread the diesel money.
Thurso is far from pretty much everywhere. Unless you live in Wick or Inverness. If you’re not lucky enough to call Caithness home then it’s a mission. Especially in February when blizzards and ice are genuine issues on the road.
There are a few options for a quick north coast hit. If you’re rich you can just fly to Inverness from Bristol or London and rent a motor for the last couple of hours drive. All well and good but once board bag fees are added in the economical flight becomes not so cheap. I prefer the eight-hour drive, stop at the awesome Westmorland Services at Tebay and have a good night sleep in a nice hotel with a belly full of pie. Then do the next eight-hour leg contentedly stuffed with full English. This is the decadent but comfortable way of doing it. Suitable for those who are either old, on office expenses, or both. In essence: me. It’s especially useful if you’re driving a van with a failing clutch making every gear change a sweat-beading, swear-inducing, mini-drama. The cheap option as done by the guys is to do it one. Swapping drivers and sleeping in shifts. It’s a horrendous and painful way of travelling. But character building if nothing else. Regardless of method we were both up there for the Wednesday morning.
Turns out you can’t always trust weather forecasts. The forecast wind that was wonk for Thurso turned out to be a good few degrees out. Meaning we got three fun days at the farmyard of dreams. The waves we’d actually gone up for didn’t happen at all. Shows how much we know. But pleasant accidents are always welcome. A chart that isn’t a Thurso chart means folk don’t make the mission. So it was just the local crew, our four man gang a few other Scottish visitors (big high five to the mad man that slept in his car in the farmyard when it was below freezing at night, that’s commitment). Being February it was also, in the main, cold. Sure we got two mornings with windows of gorgeous light as the shots prove but it was frigging cold. Our final morning an hour was all we could manage before the biting wind drove us shivering back to the Tempest cafe for a grand brunch. I even got Markie and Skip to try haggis. Which is ‘actually quite nice’. I should get a gong from the Haggis Marketing Board as I’m converting people all the time to its meaty charms.
Whilst Lev is the most southerly port Thurso is the most northerly for most things on the mainland. It’s the end of the road. Well of the A9 anyway. Stretching out either side of it is glorious empty coastline. Proper empty spaces for wildlife to prosper and silence to seep in. It’s a beautiful part of the world. Even with the menacing bulk of Dounreay blighting the coast. It maybe ugly but dismantling the old nuke plant is the main source of well paying jobs in the area and pretty much keeps the town afloat. That said Thurso’s been a trading port and hub for the area for a millennia. It’ll always find a way.
Sea floor turbines to harness the ferocious tidal flow in the Pentland Firth are one such industry that could bring more cash to the town. If the technology can be worked out and a decent way of nailing it to the sea floor so it doesn’t wash away like a trial machine did…
Just like Leven you can’t visit Thurso without coming away with a smile in your soul. Sure it’s fickle as all hell too and hard to score but when you get a good one… When it all comes together… You really don’t need to go anywhere else. And you can’t get haggis for breakfast in Indo.
Big thanks to: Mal Anderson for his help with the Terra footage for the second accompanying video to go with this piece.