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Filey 2.10: 10 – 16 June

F20616aApparently medieval mapmakers gave the name “Ultima Thule” to the land that lay beyond the region of the known world; after last weekend, I call it Sutherland.

If you look at a map, you’ll see the far north of Scotland rising above Inverness like a jauntily-perched top hat: if Caithness is the feather, a small fingernail-sized area at the top right, then Sutherland is the crown; it’s big, covering 2,300 square miles, but—unless you count the mountains—very empty, with a population of just 13,000.

The hills of Sutherland, June 2013

The hills of Sutherland, June 2013

We took an excursion along the north coast road to the Kyle of Tongue, just under two hours from Wick. The terrain changes as soon as you leave Caithness, from flat grasslands to a barren, lunar landscape of bare rocks and distant, looming peaks, the road a single track with sudden descents on either side. There were occasional sheep, which stopped grazing to stare frowning at us as we passed, as if trying to remember where they’d seen people before. Or perhaps they were desperate convict sheep who’d escaped the chain gang but got lost in the wilderness, and were thinking of hijacking our car (the origin of the expression “being fleeced”, of course).

F20616bWe stopped in Tongue at a cliffside cafe overlooking the ocean for lunch, 20C in the sun. We ate our sandwiches outside with the desperate heroism of British people on holiday everywhere, but you had to be alert: the wind kept snatching away any potato chips that weren’t anchored down with cutlery, so if you looked away for a minute your plate resembled a time-lapse film of a forest being cut down.

The estuary at Tongue, June 2013

The estuary at Tongue, June 2013

On the way back we made a detour to John O’Groats for ice cream, sitting in the sun sneering at the seagulls which worked over the tourists much like Fagin’s gang of thieving street urchins in Oliver Twist.

And all the time the reflection kept hitting us, like waking up and remembering you’ve just won the lottery: Bloody hell, this is where we live.

I’ve finished the back of my gansey, and the back half of the ridge-and-furrow shoulder straps too. I added a couple of plain rows above the pattern so the cables had room to breathe: I prefer not to end a pattern on a cable row, as they always feel a bit constricted, a bit tight, as though they want to unscrew.


Not snow: Cotton grass (Eriophorum angustifolium) near John o’Groats

As it’s 214 stitches wide, I made each shoulder 71 stitches and the neck 72. The “rig ‘n’ fur” shoulders are, as usual, 2 purl rows, 2 plain, 2 purl rows, 2 plain, 2 purl rows and 2 more plain, making 12 in all. I then slipped each shoulder and the neck from the needles onto some spare cream gansey yarn, so I shouldn’t impale myself in a tender spot when I come to do the front—which I’ve also made a start on.


Gorse and coastline between Tongue & Strathy Point

I haven’t come across any gansey patterns from Sutherland—I suppose there weren’t any harbours, let alone herring down the west coast—but I can tell you an interesting fact about the name. It means, of course, “the south land”, which seems odd, as it’s as far north as you can get in the UK without swimming. But it dates from the days when the Highlands were ruled by the Norse, from Orkney; and everywhere must have felt south to them.

So maybe I should start thinking of it as “Penultima Thule”…



11 comments to Filey 2.10: 10 – 16 June

  • Nigel

    What a great read. Heroic British tourists: lol 🙂

  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon, nice getaway, eh? When I was married, the husband and I would walk around Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis, an area known as Uptown. We had a similiar reaction-“We live here now!” Fun to recognize the same reaction.
    Re: cotton grass, first seen here! very cool, you win.
    smile. Marilyn

  • Gordon

    Why, thank you, Nigel (*doffs lid*).

    Marilyn, of course, there’s all the other times—when it’s dark, and cold, and the sleet is skimming horizontally over the fields like an incoming tactical nuclear missile strike—May, for example—and you think, Christ, why did we have to end up here?

    My solution to end unemployment in Caithness by starting a cotton-harvesting business starts here! (And ends here, too, alas…)


  • Freyalyn

    Always interesting to look at a map of the North Atlantic upside down. Suddenly you can see how the seaways worked, and what were the central points for trade and rule. Lovely knitting, as ever.

  • Gordon


    I have a rather fanciful notion of geography, in which I tend to think of southern countries—Italy, Mexico—as being like the people who live on the ground floor in blocks of flats, and have to put up with rowdy neighbours on the floor above (France, Germany, America). Then you have the countries on the top—Britain, Iceland, Canada—which have the best views.

    This may explain why I never got good marks in geography at school, of course…


  • =Tamar

    Have you seen the “Horrible Histories” songs on YouTube? there are several about Vikings. The Vikingland song is pretty good, but I don’t think they mention “Sutherland.”

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar,

      I’m a big fan of Horrible Histories, wish they’d had them when i was at school. But the author has astonishingly made statements in favour of closing libraries, saying they were great in Victorian times, not now, and complaining that they deprive hard-working authors (i.e., him) of income! Which is kind of disappointing.

      (They’re still great, though!)


      • =Tamar

        Ew, gross. Especially since libraries don’t deprive him of income, they constitute free advertising, which lasts longer than any other kind of ad because the book stays there, unlike newspaper, magazine, tv, or even internet ads, all of which cost money. So there’s a net gain. Also, many people have bought books because they wanted to have them available 24/7 for rereading, and the library wanted the books returned. So phooey to him on that.

  • Annalies

    Thank you, for the pictures from your tour, i like it so much there.
    Your gansey is also beautiful.

    • Gordon

      Hi Annalies, and thank you. The Highlands of Scotland are very beautiful – if you can catch a sunny day! That was summer – we’re into autumn now…


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