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Filey 2.13: 1 – 7 July


Britain has been basking in a heatwave this weekend, which means that in Caithness the temperatures have reached a giddy 20°C and I celebrated by taking my pullover off and—feeling rather rakish—unbuttoned my shirt’s top button. Even the wind was warm, like holding your face up close to a rapidly panting dog (fortunately without the meaty dog food smell).

The lighthouse at Dunnet Head - Orkney is in the background

The lighthouse at Dunnet Head – Orkney is in the background

So we decided to get out of the house and take in some scenery. It’s puffin season, so on Saturday we went up to Dunnet Head, the jutting-out bit that is the northernmost tip of mainland Britain, and watched the puffins nesting in the cliffs, with Orkney almost close enough to touch.

Puffins really are absurd birds, they’re like penguins who ran away to join the circus and got taken on as clowns. Their wings are so small it’s as if they’re propelled by continually expelling trapped gas. And yet in flight they’re as graceful in their own way as swallows, albeit chubby swallows with a weakness for doughnuts. It’s always windy up on Dunnet Head, even when the sea is calm, and it was pretty gusty on Saturday, as though the ghosts of Viking invaders were constantly jostling us, trying to reclaim their lost kingdom. My baseball cap was snatched off my head and sent bowling along the gravel track by the wind—unless it was the Vikings, Yankees fans to a man, harbouring bitter thoughts against the Red Sox.


Camster Cairns – the Long Cairn

Then on Sunday we drove out to the Grey Cairns of Camster, about half an hour away. These are a couple of Neolithic structures dating from c.3,000 BC, presumably burial mounds, whose walls and roofs have been partially reconstructed, but whose inner chambers are still intact. (You can unbolt the grilles that cover the entrance passageways and squeeze inside, if you feel like crawling on hands and knees: a puffin that’s been on a strict diet could probably do it easily, but we decided to pass.)


View into one of the cairns

The cairns are on a lonely hillside, surrounded by forestry plantations and acres of moorland, miles from anywhere. It was hot and still when we were there and utterly silent except for the birds, and a lost sheep which seemed to be facing an existential crisis (its constant bleating far more annoying than a car alarm). It feels like a special place—but is it? Did they build the cairns here for some special property of the landscape, or does the landscape feel special because it is graced by their presence?

The great Philip Larkin, as ever, said it best, in his poem “Church Going”:

“A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.”


Side view of the Long Cairn

I’ve started working my way down the first sleeve. It’s about 9.5 inches from gusset to shoulder join, and I cast on 168 stitches, decreasing (once I got past the gusset) 2 stitches every 7 rows, to coincide with the cable rows. As you’ll see, I’ve reverted to my usual double-pointed needles after experimenting with 2 circular needles, which felt a bit like trying to knit a pattern by Escher: the problem was mine entirely, though, and I will have another go with the circulars now it’s been explained to me where I was going wrong!

Finally this week, another splendid gansey has fallen off Judit’s needles, a white one this time and based on patterns from Beth Brown Reinsel’s book. You can see it here (note the initials just above the welt): it really shows how effective banded patterns can be – congratulations to her once again.

20 comments to Filey 2.13: 1 – 7 July

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Gordon, many thanks!

  • Gordon

    Hi Judit, credit where it’s due!


  • Lynne

    Lovely gansey, Judit, there’s nothing like white to show off these stunning patterns!

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Hello Lynne,
    Thanks for your comment. This is the third white gansey I knitted and I love them all. I think that
    the traditional blue – for instance on old photos – does not show the fine patterns so I prefer light colours

  • Nigel

    Wow Judit, that is beautiful. Very inspiring

  • Marilyn

    Hi Gordon, hilarious puffin description. Very charming. I visited New Grange in Ireland and crawled inside. It was wonderful, a thrill, I wanted to stay longer than the guide thought necessary. Maybe next time you’ll try the cairn.
    Dear Judit, lovely work and I agree the light colors do show the depth of the stitches. Happy Knitting, all!

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn,

      We weren’t dressed for crawling through dirt on our hands and knees, but I’m sure we’ll go back. Maybe next time I’ll leave a note to say where we went, just in case we get stuck like the governess the information board mentions, who crawled inside and then couldn’t get out again and they had to get a ladder and open a hole around the skylight!


  • Nigel

    A baby Puffin is called a … puffling!

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Hi Marilyn and Nigel,
    I was happy reading your comments on my last white gansey.
    Nigel by the way I saw a lot of pufflings in Iceland, they are cute 🙂

  • Judit M./ Finland

    P.s. for Nigel:
    And what is the name of a gansey knitted for a child ? Is it probably a gansling ?

  • Marilyn

    Ha! Judit! of course, what else could it be called. Now you’re giving Gordon a run for the money in the hilarity department, too!

  • Nigel

    🙂 Ha ha Judit. Very funny. Yes a Gansling would be a good word.
    Did you knit your initials in Moss stitch or all purl stitches on your white gansey. On my gansey (now 9 inches long!) I knit my initials in moss stitch. But I messed up the N a little. I let it go. I am not too strict with a practice gansey

    • Cathy

      Hi Nigel.
      What do you call an adult-sized practice gansey that won’t do as it’s told? (I mean mine of course, I’m sure yours is very well behaved.)
      Is it a ganster?

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Hi Nigel,
    My initials are all purl stitches. I think that the size of the letters is important, too small letters are difficult to read.


    Happy knitting !

  • Jane Cobb

    Why do you want to use circs when you are already extremely comfortable with DPNs? I can’t see the point of wrestling with long lengths of cable and dangling needle tips or loops that have to be pulled through and that get caught on the arms of the chair. With DPNs I get almost no mark where I swap needles whereas with circs I have horrible ladders. Let the enthusiasts use their circs, I’m sticking with DPNs.

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane,

      Well, after the ease and simplicity of knitting the body with circular needles, I do find the double-pointeds on the sleeves a bit fiddly, and you have to be careful not to develop “runs’ or “ladders” of unsightly large stitches at the point when you move from dpn to dpn. But mostly now it’s a matter of pride – I’m a member of the species that’s landed to the moon and perfected the croissant: I shouldn’t be defeated by mere knitting needles!


  • Nigel

    Cathy: spot on 🙂

  • Laura Sibley

    Who are the recipients of your ganseys or do you knit without one in mind?

    • Gordon

      Hi Laura,

      I usually knit them for family and friends. I’ve kept 3 for my own, and Margaret’s got a couple, but the rest I give away. My current project is to knit a gansey for the crew of the Reaper, the training fishing vessel run by the Anstruther Fisheries Museum—it’s not for anyone in particular, but I reckon if it fits me, it should fit someone! (Of course, if they don’t want it, eBay here we come…)


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