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Filey 18: 16 – 22 July

On Saturday, after I’d been laid up sick and off work for a couple of days with a migraine of epic proportions, we decided what I needed was some fresh air—so we drove up to Duncansby Head, the most top-rightishly bit of Scotland, and one of our favourite wild places in Caithness.

I’ve mentioned Duncansby Head before—it’s an exposed headland surrounded by ocean, the Pentland Firth and the islands of Orkney and Stroma to the north, the Moray Firth to the south. Nothing much grows there, the wind’s too severe, a good strict Calvinist wind—any plants or trees just wilt and give up in the face of stern disapproval. (Maybe Calvinism explains why John o’ Groats is such a tawdry, joyless eyesore—it’s like a fun fair designed by people who know in their hearts that fun is sinful and wrong.)

Anyway, we went for a walk along the cliffs. Fresh air was in plentiful supply, all the way from the arctic circle, slamming into us at about 30 mph—we followed the countryside code and strapped sheep to our backs to use as flotation devices should we be blown over the edge—and persevered all the way up the cliff path to look down on the fabulous Duncansby Stacks and Thirle Door.

The cliffs and stacks are, of course, pretty cool (I like to think of them as ‘Satan’s Cufflinks’, and shall be using the name to any tourists I encounter in the hope that it catches on). But what made it really special was the seals—there must have been a whole pod or bob of them out fishing, their sleek black heads popping up and down in the grey waters like a giant whack-a-mole game, seabirds wheeling around them like flakes of snow; sometimes life ambushes you like this, throws you a surprise party when you least expect it.

The migraine was one of those ‘dysfunctionality’ migraines—no flashing lights or severe pain, but heavy congestion and utter prostration, so I’d get out of breath just standing up, coupled with a general feeling of weirdness, as if my eyes could see an extra dimension my brain couldn’t process. But I was able to knit on and off, and as a result got quite a lot done.

(And finally, Saturday evening’s entertainment at Wick Market Square – the massed bands of RBLS Wick, Thurso, and Caithness Junior Pipe Bands)

I’ve reached the cuff, and you can see that I decided to go with Lynne’s suggestion and knit the pattern all the way down the arm, leaving only the same inch of plain knitting as I did between the welt and the body (it’s such a great pattern I wanted to continue it; and besides, there’s something very fetching about cables running all the way down the arm). Now all I have to do is decrease, and knit the six inches of ribbing for the fold-back cuff.

By the way, after my concern over balls of yarn, I’m just coming to the end of ball ten. I’ll have to break open another ball somewhere down the cuff, but I’ll still have the best of a whole 100g ball left out of the thirteen I bought. (I still intend that the last gansey I shall knit before I retire will consist of all the leftovers in my stash—and it will give everyone else a pretty good idea of what a migraine looks like…)

11 comments to Filey 18: 16 – 22 July

  • Marilyn

    Ah, Gordon, sorry to hear of your dimensional difficulties. What if… there IS another dimension you were seeing? Might take some getting used to- but I’m feeling that near the end of the Mayan Calendar anything is possible!
    Thanks for the pipes and drums, men in kilts…

  • =Tamar

    Do sheep float? Or is the idea that the sheep will swim and tow you to shore?
    I agree with Marilyn – maybe migraines are the result of seeing another dimension. Getting stuck between worlds.
    Regardless, the gansey is gorgeous. Anything for more knitting time?

  • Freyalyn

    I love Duncansby Head – I’m just waiting to see something think it’s a good place to fly a kite and to then take off towards Norway! I would pay good money to see ‘The Last Gansey’! Sympathy for the migraine, though.

  • Gracie


    Oh yes, migraines are very painful. I’m sorry that you experienced one. Immense stress trigger mine.
    Great progress with the knitting though! It looks marvelous.
    I love hearing about your ventures, and seeing the photos and video. Great fun. I notice how the audience for the marching band is bundled against the chill. It is a painful 33 °C here today, but I’m still knitting with wool. It’s not far to Sept. and Oct. again.

  • Gordon

    Hello all,

    And thanks for the good wishes. Yes, migraines suck, though there’s part of me (unscientifically) believes that it’s part of what gives me my particular outlook on life, chemicals in the brain. And there are moments, once a year or so, when they wear off, when it’s almost like being on drugs—a sense of totality, of wholeness, of clarity of vision, of the interconnectedness of all things, when you can almost experience the underlying reality of the universe, like an extra sense.

    And given some of the dreams I have when migraine season is upon us, an extra dimension is not so hard to believe—just scary if true…

    Sheep. Both a flotation device like a buoy and a nutritious snack if you get swept out to sea far from a handy cafeteria.

    The pipe bands were great, especially the lilting tune when they marched down the street to arrive. I always get a lump in my throat on these occasions thinking of the Highlanders going over the top in the First World War to the skirl of the pipes.

    We had our first real day of summer here for a time today—the temperature reached the giddy heights of about 18 degrees C. If this keeps up I may even risk leaving the hot water bottle in the cupboard!

    Cheers all,

  • Lisa Mitchell

    You can have as much of our 28 degrees C as you like. My English genes kick in at about 24 degrees and it’s been 3 generations since my family came to Canada! Gansey’s looking great btw.

  • Gracie


    Have you discussed blocking before (I’m still new)? Will you be blocking the gansey, or not necessary?


  • Gordon

    Hi Lisa,

    Ha, after 2 nights sans hot water bottle the temperature slid down to 14 degrees C today so I’ve been forced back to it like the pathetic addict I am. And it’s July! I don’t mean to complain, but I can’t help feeling it’s not altogether fair. (I’ll give you my long johns when you pry them from my cold dead hairy legs. But I’d advise you to bring a pair of scissors just in case—just sayin’.)


  • Gordon

    Hello Gracie,

    Yes, we block all my ganseys, not least because the cables and purl stitches tend to pull them in like elastic. The current one, for example, currently is only three-quarters of the width round the chest it needs to be, so it’s going to get a good stretch, like Guy Fawkes on the rack.

    (You can see more on this at http://www.ganseys.com/?page_id=1755, as well as pictures of Margaret’s handy foam boards that we use to pin them out on. Margaret does all this for several reasons. First of all, i’m spectacularly lazy. Secondly, she’s more accurate and painstaking than I am. And thirdly, with my eyesight, I tend to end up pinning my hand to the boards instead of the gansey, which always leads to unnecessary complications.)

    So—tune in again in about 4 weeks, when I hope to have a finished, washed, pinned and blocked gansey to show you. Either that, or (if it goes wrong) I’ll pretend it was eaten by midges. Watch this space…


  • morgan

    I realize this is an old post, but I stumbled across it when I was trying to find information on seeing an extra dimension during a migraine. This happens to me often, and this is the only reference to it that I could find anywhere. I’m glad to see there’s at least one person in this world who may have experienced what I do. Things that are normally 3D still appear 3D, but 2D objects and patterns appear as 3D as well. Take a floral patterned chair, for instance. I would normally see the floral pattern as being flush with the surface of the chair. But when I have a migraine, I can see the 3 dimensionality of the chair itself, but the flowers project out toward me in an additional dimension, beyond 3D, that I cannot see when I am well. Is this anything like what you experienced? I am very curious.

    • Gordon

      Hi Morgan,

      That’s very interesting. I get several kinds of migraines – mostly these days they are relatively low level: headache like a hangover, a little nausea, general feebleness in my limbs (I get out of breath climbing stairs) and very tired eyes. The full-on dysfunctionality and prostration only comes once or twice a year, thank God.

      I find it incredibly frustrating not being able to put into words what it’s like. I suppose that’s because it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, and so there’s nothing I can compare it to. It’s not “like” anything except itself.

      So there are times when I see a sort of heightened reality. It’s not as obviously the change of something in 2D into 3D as you describe, more as if there’s an extra dimension beyond the 3rd which I am partially, briefly, able to see. It’s like 3D, but more so. (Having read some philosophy, the best way I can think of describing it is to say that it feels as if – for a few moments – I can see beyond the limits of my ordinary senses into the world of the numinous, to almost – but not quite – see things are they are in themselves. Although this is a sensory illusion, I know.)

      It doesn’t happen very often. When it does I get a powerful sense of wellbeing, as if I’ve glimpsed the underlying nature of reality and have seen the interconnectedness of all things, a sense of “now I understand…”. Then it fades, and it’s just me (and the chair), like waking from a very happy dream.

      As I say, it doesn’t happen often. But I think of it as a privilege when it happens. And I would regret losing it, even for the benefit of not having the headaches. (Probably.) I know none of my friends or family have experienced this.

      Does this make any sense?


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