THURSO, a municipal and police burgh, and seaport of Caithness, Scotland. Pop. (1901), 3723. It is situated at the mouth of the Thurso, on Thurso Bay, 21 m. N.W. of Wick, and 319 m. N. of Edinburgh by the North British and Highland railways, the most northerly town in Scotland. Coaches run daily to Mey and Wick and every day a mail-car goes to Tongue, in Sutherlandshire, about 40 m. west.
In Macdonald Square, laid out with ornamental walks, there is a statue of Sir John Sinclair. A promenade along the sands was opened in 1882. The town-hall contains a public library and museum, which possesses the geological and botanical specimens of Robert Dick (1811-1866), the "Thurso baker," as well as a large collection of northern birds. In the neighbourhood are quarries for Caithness flags, which are cut and dressed in the town. They constitute the leading export, but the trade of the port is hindered by the inconvenience of the harbour. There is, however, communication daily from Scrabster pier, 2 m. north-west, with Scapa and Stromness in Pomona (Orkneys), calling at Hoxa; once a week with Wick, Aberdeen and Leith; and occasionally in summer with Liverpool. To the east is Thurso Castle, the residence of the Ulbster branch of the Sinclairs, and near it is Harold's Tower, built over the grave of Earl Harold, once owner of half of Caithness, and half of the Orkneys and Shetlands, who fell in battle with Earl Harold the Wicked in 1190. About three-quarters of a mile west stand the ruins of the bishop's palace, which was destroyed by fire in 1222. Thurso was the centre of the Norse power on the mainland when at its height under Thorfinn (1014), and afterwards till the battle of Largs (1263). Count Modach, nephew of King Duncan, quartered his army for a time at Thurso and despoiled it till he was surprised and slain by Thorfinn in 1040. In the time of Malcolm II. Earl Erlend resided in the town. In 1633 it was created a burgh of barony, and was the seat of the sheriff courts of the county till they were removed to Wick in 1828.
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