I have just returned from my spring break visit to my family in the far north of Scotland, to Thurso - the town where I was born. On my last visit in October 2018 I was pleasantly surprised to find a new comic shop in the town centre. I was even more pleasantly surprised that the shop still existed on my return several months later. To put things into perspective, the nearest city to Thurso is Inverness, capital of the Highlands - 110 miles to the south, and it doesn’t even have its own comic shop any more.
Thurso itself is on the very northern coast of Scotland - you can see the Orkney Islands (on the 59th Parallel North, similar latitude to areas of Alaska, Norway and Sweden), only a few miles north across the Pentland Firth from there. A few miles east is Dunnet Head, most northerly point on the British mainland, and further east is the more famous John O’Groats. Thurso (population~8000) is the largest settlement in the county of Caithness (population<30,000), the only other town is the smaller Wick. Everything in Caithness has Norse names, a legacy of the colonisation of the county by the Viking peoples that ended in the 13th century. The name Thurso means “Thor’s river”, after the Norse god of Thunder.
“The Cave” is run single-handed by Harwyn Geddes, a Caithness native who financed it with his own life savings. It opened in June 2018 just as the unusually hot summer heatwave began, with temperatures inside the shop apparently reaching 40 degrees celsius! Normally the climate of Caithness is not dissimilar to Iceland, the terrain certainly looks like tundra, mostly grass and heather with very few trees.
He told me it was difficult initially to find a supplier for much of the toy and games he sought to stock, though for comics he relies on the Diamond Comics Distributors Inc. monopoly, like everyone else. Oddly enough it is more difficult to procure British licensed materials like Harry Potter and Doctor Who than it is to source anime merchandise - hence the good selection of Fate/Grand Order figures in stock (I very much approve).
In order to stock what is popular for anime fans, Harwyn says that he has to develop a degree of precognition as tastes change so quickly with the anime seasons, and stock has to be ordered at least 2 months in advance. His shop certainly had an eclectic selection of merchandise, card games, plush toys and books. He tends to stock whatever he thinks is popular, whether it be manga/american comics/merchandise, plus he is happy to take suggestions and orders from customers.
I’m more of a book lover than a merchandise buyer, so I was most interested in the manga shelf. So far his stock is quite conservative in volume, but I picked up some things that looked interesting, including a couple of books I’d never heard of plus even some Yaoi about boys with disabilities. Perhaps folks in Thurso have quite specific tastes in graphic literature? Interspersed with the manga were some recent light novels, mainly in the isekai genre. He also stocks some American comics - new and older back issues. I even spied an old Eclipse/Viz comics issue of Area 88!
I of course felt that I needed to support a local business. One cannot visit the remote Highlands of Scotland without buying obscure Yuri Manga, a couple of Re:Zero Rem figures and a random Pokemon plushie. Here’s my total haul:
2x Rem figures (1 with clock and mace, 1 with smile)
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal Edition 1 (Naoko Takeuchi)
Hina Matsuri 1 (Masao Ohtake)
Whispered Words 1+2 (Takashi Ikeda)
Random D+D dice (not pictured)
2x random DC Superman One-shots (not pictured)
Should you ever have cause to visit the frozen north, please visit Harwyn at:
39 Olrig Street