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Filey 2.14: 8 – 14 July

F21407a F21407heatherbogAfter our appetites were whetted last week by the sight of puffins up at Duncansby Head, we decided to explore the large puffin colony up the coast a few miles past Dounreay on the Caithness-Sutherland border. This is at a strange and beautiful place called Drumholllistan.

F21407drumhollistanIt’s wild country up there, a broad, flat expanse of squishy peat and moss stretching to the coast. You have to leave the car behind and follow a ghost of a track for half a mile or so across the moor, through white cotton grass and flowering purple heather, adders and giant slugs, past the bones of cattle and members of earlier expeditions lying bleaching in the sun—or at least you would, if the sun ever shone in Caithness—until you reach the cliffs, and a deep cleft opens up in the earth, and there’s a hidden cove, and a rocky beach, and there below you is what I like to think of as the Puffinarium.


Snake in the Grass: an adder

There’s a moment where you feel cheated, and say, “But where are all the birds? I thought this was supposed to be Puffin Central!” And then you look more closely and see the grassy slopes frothing like yeast with hundreds of puffins, and all those things you took to be floaters in your eye are really puffins soaring in the breeze like penguins who’ve discovered how to paraglide.


Embiggen for a better view: those little black dots are puffins. Lots of ’em.

We scrabbled about two-thirds down the cleft, stopping only when we remembered we’d have to climb back up, and sat and stared through binoculars at the oblivious puffins, which reminded me of one happy evening I spent back in Edinburgh when the students across the road forgot to close their curtains.

(By the way, have you ever noticed a resemblance between a puffin’s head and the helmet of an Imperial Stormtrooper in Star Wars? Coincidence? I think not.)

F21407bI have a new book out, just published on Amazon kindle. It’s called The Cuckoo’s Nest, and it’s a Victorian murder mystery (not fantasy this time), set during the building of the Elan Valley dams in Radnorshire in the 1890s. I wrote the first draft 10 years ago, and have been honing it on and off ever since. It’s probably the book I’m most proud of, my love letter to my beloved Mid Wales, and if you’re curious it will be on a free promotion this week, ending Friday.

In gansey news, I’m making good progress down the first sleeve. Now I’m past the gusset I’m decreasing 2 stitches on every 7th row, the decrease rows aligned with the cable rows. And as ever, I’m anxious that the sleeve isn’t too wide and baggy, or too narrow and tight. I plan to maintain the pattern for 5 diamonds, or about 15 inches, and leave the rest of the sleeve plain to the cuff.



F20707haap2Finally, you remember I mentioned our superabundance of spiders the other week? Yesterday I opened the cupboard to find a great black spider next to the jar of peanut butter: for a few moments we were both too surprised to react—the spider assuming the nonchalant air of one sent by other spiders just to see what sort of additives Tesco were putting in their peanut butter nowadays—before I remembered which of us was the 6-foot mammal, and evicted the blighter.

Well, Margaret has decided to fight back and has knitted her own giant cobweb. At least, I assume that’s what it is: she did say something about it being a shawl; but when she’s on holiday I plan to stretch it over the kitchen cupboards, smear it with glue and give the little beggars a taste of their own medicine…

11 comments to Filey 2.14: 8 – 14 July

  • Dave

    You’re going to do WHAT to Margaret’s shawl? After the courts rule “justifiable homicide,” and set her free, maybe she’ll finish your final gansey as a memorial. Maybe she’ll put it on the pike with your head. Maybe you’d better refrain . . .

    • Gordon

      Ha, Margaret is the Queen of the Spiders, and has enslaved them for her devilish arachnid purposes. Our spare bedroom is now a spider sweatshop as thousands of the poor blighters are worked to death weaving shawls from their spinnerets that Margaret, aka the “Grey Widow”, then passes off as her own work…

  • Lynne

    Good one, Dave, my sentiments exactly! Stunning lace shawl, Margaret – and I’ll bet it’s your own pattern! Love the travelog photos, Gordon, and I know you comment on the sun never shining in Caithness, and yet the sky is always blue in your pictures. Thanks, again, for your literary gift, I’ll get right on that one, it’s my genre of reading.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne,

      Hope you enjoy the book. It’s very evocative for me, and reading it again brings back the town, and the valley, and the beautiful reservoirs. Sigh. Nostalgia, as they say, isn’t what it used to be…


  • Susan

    Rats! It seems that Amazon has decided that The Cuckoo’s Nest is only for UK customers. Not available to those of us in the USA. Disappointed.

  • Gracie


    It’s Gracie, post-move fiasco, still exhausted, eating pizza, and searching for shower ingredients. The internet provider has destroyed our confidence and left us 6 days thus far, sans transferred internet accounts. No knitting till settled.

    I loved this post. You are so funny – I always laugh – but, I also truly enjoy your man-on-the-scene reporting. You are very good. Thank you, or Margaret, for the photos – they are supreme. Fess up Margaret – you are a pro – am I right?

    Dave has an agreeing fan here about Margaret’s intricate work. To me, it’s beyond human capability – something commissioned by a Chinese emperor.

    I love the gansey! It’s beautiful, and coming along so fast!


    • Gordon

      Hi Gracie, and thank you, as ever. The photos are all Margaret’s—as you’ll see, when she’s away for a few weeks again shortly and I have to fill in. But she’s not a pro—at least, the man was merely asking directions in a friendly sort of way, and certainly no money changed hands—but she does have an eye for a picture, and the patience to get it just right.

      Best of luck with the move aftershocks. It’s always very disorientating, and this is where you realise how much we all depend on the internet. Good lord, without it I’d have to watch tv news again!


  • Lisa Mitchell

    Am now taking sock knitting lessons. Now I can get to the gansey sock pattern I’ve been lusting to try for years!

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Don’t tempt a Canadian, Gordon!

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