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Image by Kevin Mueller
‘Sunset on the North 500’
“We’ll have to hurry to get there and back and still make Keiss this evening. Quick photos this time.”
“We’ve already seen two castles today, Dan. What’s special about this one?”
“It’s a ruin.”
“So was the last. What was that one even called again?”
“Come on. It’s in my notes, but we’ve got a walk to get to this.”
Jas took her helmet off and locked it in the topbox, then shook her hair out to get some air into it. It had been surprisingly hot for a Scottish spring day. She wanted a shower, really, but Dan had one more thing to cross off his seemingly-infinite list, and then maybe she’d get a rest.
Dan strode off across a field. In the distance a group of people were walking towards them, evidently having completed their tour of whatever ruin this was. Jas hadn’t even asked its name. They’d done just over a hundred miles, and stopped in countless places already, one of which was a mud-sodden path to a set of what had been billed as standing stones, but were in fact rocks set out in some kind of indistinct pattern on the ground. She’d thought it would have made a good stop for their picnic, but allegedly the schedule didn’t allow for a longer stop at that point.
The idea was to get to Keiss before nightfall so they could take a walk to … what? Jas tried to remember. Probably another castle. Whatever Dan had on that list.
She looked up and saw he was waiting for her, tapping his foot in an exagerated way she was certain no one actually did, to make clear he was expecting her to speed up. She began striding after him. As she got within a few metres he turned and began walking again, a little faster than she could comfortably walk in leathers.
They crossed the field, seeing two sections of castle separated by some kind of causeway with a bridge over it, and then another causeway separating the whole thing from the mainland. Dan took a photo of each of four notice boards, then turned his camera’s attention to the castle itself, snapping away as Jas approached.
She read the first board, detailing the history of “Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, Patron HRH The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay”. “Why’s it got two names?” she wondered, reading on.
“Gosh,” she said. “That section there,” she said, pointing past an unresponsive boyfriend, “was dug out back in the 15th century. As in, by hand. It’s not natural. Wow.”
“Come on,” said Dan, heading down a walkway and over the bridge into the ruin. He snapped a few more shots. Jas stopped and looked. She read the next board, explaining what the rooms had been used for. She looked up and imagined for a moment what it would have been like, especially on a dark stormy night rather than the glorious sunshine they were enjoying today. How isolated this little castle was, jutting out into the North Sea on a lump of rock. The walls perched perilously close to the edges. Jas wondered how many people had fallen during its construction, if any. They didn’t have health and safety back then.
“Come on!” came another shout from inside. Jas waved and took a quick shot on her phone of Dan visible through the gap between what seemed to be two castles. The next board explained the controversy over whether it was in fact two castles or one. Amazing that things so recent could be unknown.
Dan shouted again, and Jas dragged herself from her reverie and joined him in the castle. She stared at the room which had been the main hall. From a window she saw the sun, low over the fields, beginning to turn amber.
“Right, done this,” said Dan, checking the time on his phone. “We can make it if we rush.”
“I don’t want to,” said Jas, without thinking. She turned round and walked to the opposite side of the room, out towards the unforgiving sea.
“No,” she said, calmly. She didn’t know where it was coming from, but it bubbled to the surface as she soaked in the history of the place, once more imagining people coming and going, a roaring fire in the fireplace over there. A table across here, covered with beer and food. Children laughing, perhaps, as they ran round the table, getting under the feet of a visiting nobleman, perhaps the Earl of Caithness himself. She smiled.
“What do you mean, Jasmine? What’s up? Are you feeling OK?”
“Never better, Dan. Never better. But I’m going to sit on this rock here, if you don’t mind, and I’m going to watch the sunset through that window there. And we’re going to take in what this castle feels like.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will, Dan. You will. Sit with me.”
Jas sat on a rock. She patted the rock to her side. Dan reluctantly climbed up and sat down.
“I’m tired of that list of yours, Dan. I’m tired of rushing. When we get to the hotel we’re going to go through and cut out half the places you’ve got marked, and we’re going to enjoy the other half. Or maybe a bit less. But for now, we’re going to sit here and enjoy a sunset.”
She leaned over and kissed him. “Please, Dan. Let’s sit and watch. Calm down. Properly see things. Properly look. We’ve got all the time in the world. We don’t need to rush about like mad things. We can always come here again. For now, sit with me, and enjoy. Lean back, and look. And I promise you, Dan my love, that if we make it together until we’re old, this sunset will be one you’ll still remember.”
Robert Kibble lives a few miles west of London, and has been writing for twenty-five years, off and on. When not writing, and not suffering the burden of a very much less creative day job, he is oddly upset about the lack of zeppelins in the modern world, accidentally collecting whisky, or generally wittering (yes – about zeppelins) at philosophicalleopard.com.