By the time we needed to visit the supermarket again we were running low on homegrown vegetables too. There were still plenty of spuds and alliums, courgettes and French beans but the broad beans, peas and beetroot were eaten. It is somewhat surprising that vegetables such as courgettes and French beans should still be edible after a 600 mile car journey and 6 days out of the ground but compared to the journeys some fruit and vegetables have to arrive in supermarkets its nothing.
When homegrown is not available I like to shop local instead and this is probably easier here than anywhere in the UK. The Scots are very proud of anything Scottish so supermarkets are stocked with Scottish products including everything from haggis to cheese to carrots. And with the different pace of life up here, where Tescos only arrived a couple of years ago, there are still thriving local specialist shops such as butchers and fishmongers. It makes a pleasant change to shop in places like this and the whole family actively enjoys our shopping trips.
So a 40 minute, 30 mile drive to Thurso isn’t the chore it might be if this was something I had to do every week of the year. Instead we look forward to it, made more enjoyable by the ease of parking near to each of the shops we visit. First to MacKay’s the butchers – a large, rotund man with ruddy cheeks who was clearly born to be a butcher. He greeted us in his usual friendly way, recognising us from previous annual visits. All his meat is local, of course, and can be cut to order if necessary. His sausages are the highlight of our trip and my daughter claims they are the only sausages she likes. Here we stocked up on fillet steak, leg of lamb, a chicken and sausages as well as “olives”, pieces of frying steak wrapped round a sage and onion stuffing. I’ve never seen these anywhere else so enjoy having them when I can just because they are a bit different. We also bought half a dozen local free-range eggs and a punnet of Caithness grown strawberries.
A very short drive to the quayside and we parked this time outside the fishmongers. It is also right by our favourite café “The Tempest” and although we were all starving we decided to visit the fishmongers first as this, like the butchers, still have the quirky habit of closing for lunch. Like so many places up here this is also called “MacKay’s” but a different and unrelated MacKay to the butchers (Sutherland is of course Clan MacKay country). Here Steve stocked up on a pot of crabmeat, some enormous fresh scallops and a wedge of Orkney cheese before we headed into the café for lunch. I can’t help marvelling at the car park – a huge expanse of tarmac at the quayside, next to several shops and a popular café and with a seaview, overlooking the Orkney Islands. Firstly, it is remarkable because there are absolutely no road marking in it so you can park wherever you choose. Secondly, it is completely free of charge. And thirdly, it is almost entirely empty. Imagine such a car park in Cornwall, closely packed bay markings, pay and display and full by 9am.
Nicely stocked up with a variety of fresh, local produce we drove back to the cottage in excited anticipation of our next meal.