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Balerno 6: 27 June – 3 July

As I write this the sun is shining on Edinburgh, birds are singing, and little boys are skateboarding down the hill outside and causing multiple accidents as they collide with oncoming traffic at the bottom. A typical summer’s day, you might say. And – what follows is a bit shocking, so those of you of a nervous disposition may choose to skip to the next paragraph – with the extreme daring of a Victorian bather I have taken my socks off and rolled up my trouser legs an inch or two. If this keeps up we’re talking shorts, and to hell with the neighbours’ blood pressure, say I.

It was so nice last week, in fact, that we went for an excursion in the four-wheeler, down the coast to Eyemouth (which always makes me think it should be twinned with Earnose, or something). I’m trying to visit all the old fishing towns and villages I can, places where gansey patterns have been collected, without getting all obsessive about it.

Eyemouth is a lovely little town of some 3,400 inhabitants, and has the feel of a real fishing port, not a tourist recreation, which is the fate of so much of Britain’s heritage. Eyemouth is the genuine article, with battered old working fishing boats tied up in the harbour, heaps of lobster pots drying in the sun, a working shipyard, a fish market and a strong smell of fish. I loved it. There wasn’t much activity on a sleepy sunny June morning, nor, of course, any ganseys in this day and age, just a few dog walkers and employees of the main fish merchants in town in their rubber aprons and wellies, ready for a hard day’s gaffing, and a couple of men working on a boat in the shipyard.

We parked on the sea front and wandered up the beach, picking our way through sand, shingle, jellyfish and dog poo, trying to decide if the lumps on the rocks out at sea were seals or, er, lumps of rock. (They probably wondered the same about us.) In fact, the beach was strewn with glistening, blobby, beached purple jellyfish, looking as if Shrek had a cold but had forgotten his handkerchief. We heard on the news later that Torness nuclear power station just up the coast had to shut down both its reactors when this swarm of jellyfish clogged their cooling water filters. (None of the jellyfish I saw looked to be associated with Greenpeace, but you never know.)

The harbour is a deep gash like a narrow V in the coastline, the point where the River Eye bleeds into the ocean, and we walked down one side, then up the other, in full Old Salt mode, trying to work out where all the boats came from by their registrations (one was from Exeter, nearly as far from home as we were). One of these days I’m going to apply for an Arts Council Grant and go round these wonderful old places with a bunch of ganseys and some hired extras and recreate the famous old photographs of fishermen by Sutcliffe et al.

Speaking of ganseys, I’m still making good progress. This is going to be quite a long one – 27/28 inches – so I still haven’t reached the gussets. (The basic dimensions will be as follows. Body: 15/16 inches. Gussets: 4 inches. Armhole & shoulder: 8 inches.) Not far to go before I start the gussets.

Finally, I decided it was time to move my bread baking up a notch and try my hand at croissants. This is the first time I’ve ever made them, and they’re really not as troublesome as I’d been led to believe. (In fact, if it wasn’t for the 368g of butter per batch, I’d probably make them all the time now!) They take a long time, since you have to let the dough rest between each fold, but you can freeze them – we now have a freezer full. Next time I’ll roll the dough out thinner and make them a bit smaller, and the shaping could be better, but really they’re not bad for a first go. And they taste great with fresh coffee…

And you’ll be relieved to know that since I started writing this, it has clouded over (changeable or what?). Summer is temporarily put on hold, and the shorts remain in the drawer, like a faithful old sheepdog who’s never lost hope that it might be taken out for one last round-up of the flock…

12 comments to Balerno 6: 27 June – 3 July

  • Annalies

    Wonderful story!

  • Leigh

    Hmm, I am thinking small-group gansey tours, taking the touristas to all the little out of the way places that no one thinks to go because they have not been throughly approved by the tour bus companies.

    When I traveled in England/Scotland in the early 90s, some of my best travels were when I just got off the train and scouted the area, and then the last 10 day, I was on a bus tour. I do not think I will do the bus tour thingy again.

    So waddya think Gordon? Got a 10-seater van?

    P.S. Really like the gansy pattern. Looks really good even in a dark color.

    P.S.S. As long as the proverbial butt-cheeks, are not displaced, I do not think your shorts would shock anyone. Shorts – Scotland, is that an oxymoron?

  • Lynne

    Wonderful travelogue, if I get across the pond again it will definitely be on my agenda. In 1993 we went to the sea town of Blakeney and at a little shoppe (directed toward tourists) they DID sell ganseys. The price encouraged me to knit my first one at 1/5th of the cost! in the traditional navy, Flamborough pattern.
    OMG! the croissants look delicious!!

  • Gordon

    Hello all,

    Eyemouth really is a nice place. Not at all showy, very sincere.

    Bus tours – it’s a niche market, so I’m not sure how viable it is, and of course you don’t have the cottage industry any more to show when you get there. But I’d have thought somewhere like the Moray Firth with its gansey project could maybe find a tourist dimension to it? Failing that, I could dig out all my spare ganseys and hire a bunch of actors to pretend to be Victorian fishermen – like they do in historical sites in the USA, like Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower. Though I suspect the tourists on the tour would get suspicious when they encountered exactly the same “fishermen” at Eyemouth, Musselborough, Anstruther…

    (Any takers to be a “fisher lassie” re-enactor, spending all day up to your elbows in salted herring guts…? Anyone?)

    Lynne – Blakeney, is that the one in Norfolk? We used to live just down the coast in Lowestoft, though no one sold ganseys. The only time I’ve seen one for sale was in a craft fair in Scotland, in a much larger stitch gauge than was traditional – and I thought £125 was a lot of money, even 20 years ago!

    Oh, and Leigh – it’s not the shorts as such that would frighten the horses, it’s what they might reveal…


  • Lynne

    Yes, it was the Blakeney in Norfolk. The gansey patterns were very minimal, however it was done in the small stitch gauge. The shop probably isn’t even there anymore but I didn’t get up that way two years ago.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    I did a quick google search on Norfolk ganseys and couldn’t find anything on Blakeney, but found an article saying that Cromer is hoping to convert a disused chapel into a historic fishing heritage centre, where “it was hoped to use it to display pictures, and hold fishing-related craft workshops such as the pot, net and gansey jumper making sessions which proved popular during the recent cab and lobster festival.” So maybe we’re due a revival.

    See also http://www.maritimeheritageeast.org.uk/themes/sailors-crafts/ganseys


  • Lynne

    Some interesting comments on that website, but I particularly liked the ‘unusal gansey pattern’ shown in cream coloured yarn. On another website featuring Blakeney, they mentioned the Maritime Shop (adjacent to the Kings Arms) which sells ‘nautically-themed’ clothing, and that may have been where I had seen the ganseys, but, again, that was 18 years ago.

  • =Tamar

    That Caister-on-Sea flowerpot design looks more like a cartoon fish skeleton to me. I wonder whether the longer cable extends all the way to the hem.

    Funny you should mention shorts. I just bought my first pair of shorts (well, on me they’re knee length) in decades. It remains to be seen whether I will wear them outside the house.

    About ten years ago I went on a chartered bus tour, with an itinerary chosen by our group, in a smaller bus that held about 20 people, with a hired driver. We had a good time but the planner forgot to allow for laundry.

    I like the idea of recreating the Sutcliffe photos with
    people wearing the same gansey patterns, but I think one might have to settle for similar rather than identical. It would take years to knit them all.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne & Tamar,

    The Tom & Jerry cartoon “herring bone” effect is interesting, isn’t it? I’m not sure I;d want it on my chest, though!

    On a vaguely related note to bus tours, I was taken aback when working in rural mid-Wales to find out that the mobile library didn’t have any toilet facilities. When I asked what the procedure was I was told the driver had a bucket, or was expected to nip behind a hedge when nature called… Almost made me glad I decided to be an archivist, I tell you.


  • songbird

    … I have found the gansey pattern for ME! Would you all end up hating me if I made myself a gansey with that great fish skeleton and some sort of interesting skull patterns and I think there’s a cable called Bones…? Cause, really – that would be excellent!

    Wow. I’m happy just thinking about it!

    I like the idea of the re-creation photos. I have visited a couple of the US Outdoor Historical Re-enactment Museums and they can be interesting. I think Gansey Re-enactment might be a limited market, though.


  • Gordon


    Yes, but then you’d have to put up with people saying you looked like something the cat dragged in… (Ba-dum tish!)

    In my mind I’m afraid I’ve already created a re-enactment society like the Sealed Knot, or those people who dress up and reenact the Gettysburg. Except in my version we reenact the great herring catch off Eyemouth in 1887.


  • =Tamar

    Songbird: Here’s a URL suggestion if you don’t want to design your own pattern for the skulls. Take out the spaces to find the chart for a skull and crossbones. You should be able to work out how to do it in knit and purl seed stitches instead of color. I think she calls it Arrgyles.

    http: //scrubberbum.typepad.com/ moth_heaven/

    I have seen a similar hat pattern named “We Call Them Pirates.”