Stephen Barnaby


Along Lythmore Road, past ‘The Oval,’ the grass island where we played football and cricket, frequently retrieving the ball from the cow field behind.

The finger-like stack of The Old Man of Hoy, unmistakable across the Pentland Firth.

The cluster of streets recalling Caithness’ Norse heritage: Hakon Road, Sweyn Road, Thorfinn Terrace.

Rose Street, Princes Street:  Sir John Sinclair’s optimistic mimicking of Edinburgh’s New Town.

Familiar stout Regency steps: Thurso Library.

Initial sadness: the crammed towering shelves of my childhood now low-slung collections of crime thrillers and SAS autobiographies; the old children’s section now open plan, sparsely inhabited by comfy chairs, lifestyle magazines, self-service points.

Then, delight: through in the gallery, an exhibition of Viking artefacts. On tour from York, true, but a sense that, for all the half-baked concessions to modernity made by me in the last forty years and Thurso in the last thousand, we’ve come full circle.

Creative journey

The hard part, of course, was what to leave out:

How the journey reminded me of childhood Saturday mornings: going swimming with my dad, then home for a milky coffee and finger of Fudge, then to the library with my mum, where the children’s historical novels of Henry Treece first fired my obsession with Vikings, even before I’d  learned of Caithness’ own Norse heritage.

And how it was only after leaving Thurso that I realised the extent of Caithness’ isolation, and felt angry at having ‘missed out.’

And how that distance, that otherworldliness, is what I now prize as special.


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