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Denim 7: 19 – 25 May

D140525aDunbeath is another small harbour down the coast from Wick, built around 1800 and once the home of upwards of a hundred fishing boats all crammed tightly into the shelter of the bay, now open to the sea and the sky and the kittiwakes nesting in the cliffs—and to the occasional busload of shivering New Mexican tourists stopping off on their way north to Orkney.

We were there on Saturday, and it was cold and grey, with a bitter east wind (early summer, in other words). I have a friend who tricks her dog into going out in the pouring rain by standing in the doorway and throwing a tennis ball; the poor New Mexicans had much the same look of betrayal as her dog as the wind hit them like a hail of machine gun bullets and they realised the tour guides had shut the bus doors behind them.

D140525fIt’s another beautiful Caithness coastal location, not hemmed in by cliffs like so many of the little coves used for fishing, but spaciously wide and open. Visibility was exceptional, offering a fine view of the North Sea oil platforms, plus another large, square building like an offshore multi-storey car park I haven’t noticed before. (It’s either another oil installation, a James Bond supervillain headquarters, or a secret military base; if this blog mysteriously vanishes in the next few days you can draw your own conclusions.)


The Icehouse

Dunbeath is still a working harbour, but only for the odd creel fishing boat. There’s a large fishing store, a salmon bothy and an ice house back from the days when they used to collect ice from the river to store the salmon. It’s another great place to visit, perfect for wandering along the pier and thinking of the good old days—unless perhaps you’re from New Mexico, in which case you add another pullover and plan a messy and painful revenge on your tour guides.

D140525cOn the gansey I have now finished the back, and started on the front. As I mentioned in the comments last week, I decided at the last minute to opt for the traditional rig ‘n’ fur shoulders, as opposed to a Scottish patterned shoulder strap. I was concerned that the jumper was already quite intricate, especially with the double diamond lattice patterns; I think a shoulder strap would be too much, and detract from the overall effect. The simpler knit and purl ridges will hopefully offset the body and sleeves and allow them to shine.

Finally, I see we’ve been getting a number of visitors referred this way from the Knitting Paradise website, and the excellent gansey group. I’d just like to say welcome to new readers, and I hope you find the website useful. If you ever want to get in touch directly, or want to query anything in the ‘Knitting techniques’ section, just drop us a line via the contact form.

11 comments to Denim 7: 19 – 25 May

  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon, excellent progress on the gansey. It’s a strong design and I agree with your decision re: the straps. I’ve started a hap with a little lace edging (Kate Davies design), so far so good. Memories of winter linger and something cozy around the shoulders will be lovely while I read some crazy science fiction. Plan ahead, eh?
    Always a pleasure to read of your local jaunts, those poor New Mexicans. Take care, happy knitting.

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn

      I had to look up what a hap is! I thought it was a creature by Dr Seuss. “The hap in the cap”, perhaps?

      I stood in the hall
      When I heard someone call,
      And I saw a strange chap—
      A hap in a cap!

      “I don’t like that design!
      You are knitting too fine.
      You are knitting too fancy
      For a fisherman’s gansey!”

      Well, i got quite annoyed,
      And I asked him to stop,
      But he just wouldn’t listen,
      Till my temper went pop!

      So I picked up a needle
      And gave him a jab,
      And he developed septicaemia and after a long illness he eventually died because he didn’t have health insurance,
      Did the hap in the cap!

      • Lynne

        lol ! Well done, Gordon!

        • Gordon

          Oh, if you ever want doggerel at short notice, I’m your man. In fact I was silver medallist three years running at the All-England Gibberish in Rhyming Couplets Competition (1981-84), and my last poem (“There was a young girl from Caithness/ Who once met a cat in distress/ When she asked it to purr/ The cat shed all its fur/ And with it she made a new dress”) is, I believe, still talked about in hushed tones in those parts.

  • Jane

    The gansey looks super. I like the rig ‘n’ fur, it lets the pattern stand out in a very nice way. I am totally impressed if I may say so.

    I am very intrigued by the old, now virtually empty, harbours and buildings around you in Caithness. Right down in the crowded South of England there is nothing empty like that or at least not for very long, sadly!

    Regretfully, I am still squelching around outside, but we have beaten the ticks back for the moment! By way of a change a great big tree weakened by the wet fell over and took out the power and telephone lines!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane,

      Yes, I’m starting to feel I may have reached some sort of peak with this one, and it’s all downhill from here.

      It is very remote and empty up here, 250 miles north of Edinburgh. Our nearest proper big town is Inverness, and that’s just over 100 miles away. (It’s a long way to go for a Starbucks, I can tell you, but there have been times…) It’s surprising and wonderful to find parts of this crowded little island still underpopulated—or populated just the right amount?

      Sorry to hear about your continual woes. I think you’ve had a case of Death Watch Ticks, where they’ve gone at your tree like termites and brought it down in revenge for your brutal war of tick repression. But summer can’t be far away. It’s got to improve soon!

      • Jane

        Some good news, though, still got nine ducklings, no mean feat in our rural dip and the neighbours, being careful people using very little electricity, now have wood for the winter!

        • Gordon

          Can’t you rig up some sort of treadle like a hamster wheel, or the old turnspit dogs they used to have in country inns, whereby the ducklings could power a generator to provide you with electricity? It would build up their muscle stone, and enable you to watch the cricket, so it’d be a win-win as far as I can see…

  • Megan

    Gordon, thank you so much for this excellent website! I love cultural knits and have knit a lot of fair isle. Last winter I knit my first gansey from a patter book, a straithes gansey now that I’ve read your site. It was so much fun to knit that I decided to find more and found this site on a web search. I have been reading through it. I decided for practice to knit my niece a purple wick gansey, and then I knit my son a gansey with different pattern stripes across it. I got Gladys thompsons book, and now I think for this winter I am ready to design my own, so I am scouring her book for my favorite patterns. Thanks for all your helpful instructions!
    I live in Colorado and have been to Scotland once (and plan to go back someday) but I had to laugh out loud about your post awhile back about being stuck in a detour and then lost in Loch Ness. That is Exactly what happened to us when we were there, glad to know it wasn’t just us wrong side of the road tourist types!

    • Gordon

      Hello Megan,

      Glad you found us, and that you’re finding it helpful! I decided a few years ago to put all of the “how to” information in one easy-to-find spot, thus leaving me free to drift into a sort of hazy stream of consciousness in the weekly blog. (After all, there’s only so much you can say about knitting ganseys, and over the years I seem to have said it. Several times…)

      Alas, I can get lost between my bedroom and bathroom, so detours on Highland roads to me are the equivalent of “Here Be Dragons” marked on old maps to questing knights in the middle ages.

      Good luck with your design-your-own project, and don’t forget you can always get in touch if you want clarification on anything I’ve said, a second opinion, or just to share progress!

  • Megan

    Thanks! If I have questions I will let you know, but your how to section is very helpful. This gansey is beautiful by the way, I love it!

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