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Buckie: 13 March

Bu160314-2On Sunday the sun came out and the temperature reached an astonishing 11ºC, the kind of heat wave we haven’t seen since before the clocks went back. Seagulls dropped fainting from the cloudless skies and the freezer cabinets in Tesco were filled with panting puffins desperate for a bit of coolth. So we decided to peel off some layers and bare our knees and go off in search of something old to look at.

We didn’t have far to go: indeed, one of the more agreeable things about Caithness is that it’s littered with history the way other places have Starbucks, and you can hardly walk across a field without tripping over some ancient monument or other.

Achavanich overlooks Stemster Loch, a middling sized pond nestling prettily in a wide valley deep in the middle of nowhere. It’s a desolate sort of landscape, mile after mile of gently undulating moorland, as empty and barren as though the apocalypse had already happened but no one thought to let us know (wait—was that the Rapture? No, just a crow backfiring).


Standing stones with loch in the distance

The land is more or less peat bog as far as the eye can see, and every time you put your foot down on what looks like solid ground it sinks with a nasty sucking sound and dirty water seeps up over your shoe. The grass isn’t anchored to the land but seems to float upon it, like a shag carpet lying on the surface of a swimming pool.


Cairn and boggy approach

It’s a stunningly beautiful location, eerily quiet and lonely. We could hear some larks fizzing about overhead, and there were several frowsty sheep sleeping off the ovine equivalent of hangovers in a nearby field, but that was all: otherwise it was just us and the breeze, and about 36 jagged, broken, weathered standing stones which have stood there for a mind-boggling 4,000 years. The stones don’t quite make a full circle but are arranged in a horseshoe: the open end almost points towards the remains of an even more ancient cairn, now collapsed into ruin, like a great Megalithic soufflé.


Collapsed cairn with standing stones in distance

Meanwhile, I’m making good progress down the first sleeve of the gansey, which will be 16 inches long with a 3-inch cuff. There will be five diamonds, followed by an inch or so of plain knitting, and then the cuff. I’m decreasing at a rate of two stitches every fifth row; if my calculations are correct—and there’s a first time for everything—I should end up with some 96 stitches just before the cuff. Watch this space.

Bu160314-1In parish notices this week, Judit has once again lapped us all and gone on to win the chequered flag with this splendid gansey, a tree and miniature twin rope pattern, knit in a blue-grey yarn (which is rapidly becoming my favourite gansey colour; it has something of the sea in it). Many congratulations to Judit once again.

And so the stones of Achavanich keep their secrets. No one knows why they were put up. They may have had some ritual purpose (human sacrifice or astrology), or it may have been the Stone Age equivalent of the same urge that leads local councils to erect hideous artworks in natural beauty spots—maybe the locals even complained to the tribal elders’ planning sub-committee. I rather like the fact that we’ll probably never know.

9 comments to Buckie: 13 March

  • Judit M/ Finland

    Hello Gordon,
    Many thanks for mentioning my last work. I was happy reading your expert opinion. I am using Finnish wool and it is not as fine as your Frangipani. But as out flats are warm we do not need ganseys indoor. And the somewhat thicker pullover under a windproof jacket is the best for our weather conditions. By the way we still have snow and all the several thousands of the lakes are covered with ice.
    Your gansey looks fine and the decoration of the sleeve is very interesting. Happy knitting !

    • Gordon

      Hello Judit, you are, as ever, very welcome. I envy you your snow! It’s warm enough here now that even I don’t need to wear heavy jumpers indoors—now I just need someone to unstitch me from the bear’s skin I donned back in November…

  • Sharon in Surrey

    A very nice gansey Judit!! I also like the color you’ve chosen as well as that tree motif – sometimes simple is the best pattern of all.

    I can’t believe the sun is visible here on the Wet Coast as well. It’s been pulse after pulse of rain & wind until everything is soggy except the mountain tops which are covered in a late snowfall. We are just starting Spring Break so the school kids are sleeping in till noon or already up the mountain skiing while the sun shines. It’s amazing to see all those big cedar trees standing still for a change. No standing stones here – they couldn’t have dragged them through the forest – but we still follow some of the 4000 year old trails here & there!!

    • Judit M/ Finland

      Dear Sharon,
      Many thanks for your lines. I know that black and navy blue were the traditional colors but I think that the pattern comes better up using some light color. And it is much easier to knit as compared with a dark one.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, i think that shows a certain lack of ambition—the Easter Islanders, for example, simply chopped down all the trees to use as rollers for transporting their giant stones! As ever we have much to learn from native peoples…

      May your weather continue fine, and your mountains remain (sigh) snow-topped…

  • Really Gordon – i just love those historical tales and the pictures too. And I follow your knitting experiences with joy and interest.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lillemor – and thank you. History and geography, it’s a winning combination. Now all we need to do is get a group together to yarn bomb the standing stones (I’m thinking pinks and blues) and I think my life’s work will be complete!

  • =Tamar

    It’s been gloomy here in MD, though the predicted rain seems to have held off for a day or so. About stone circles: I’m partial to the explanation in a book called Uriel’s Machine. Leaving out the backstory, the calculations are interesting (and don’t require a math degree if you choose to read them) and provide an actual good reason for their having been built.

    Light colors for patterns, definitely. Even plain knitting is a chore with black yarn.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar, it’s usually gloomy here in Wick, even when the sun shines, but that may just be me! I haven’t read Uriel’s Machine, will look into it, thanks—though a maths degree isn’t so much the problem, it’s counting above 10 when I run out of fingers…

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