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Filey IV, Week 1: 20 February

The sun happening to shine one day last week we packed up our troubles in our old kit bag, took it down to the river, filled it with a choice selection of heavy stones and threw it in. After waiting several minutes for the bubbles to subside—for if you’re going to drown your sorrows it’s as well to do it thoroughly—we went for a stroll over the ruined Castle of Sinclair Girnigoe.

Gordon explores the goe

It’s situated just a mile or so north of Wick, commanding the entire sweep of Sinclair’s Bay in a half circle from the stacks of Duncansby all the way round to the tip of the promontory of Noss. (Noss Head juts out in a narrow spike between Sinclair’s Bay to the north and Wick Bay to the south; with the ocean on three sides and the wind blowing it’s like standing on the bowsprit of HMS Caithness under full sail.)

Sinclair, or Girnigoe Castle is stunningly sited on one of the fingers of land that splay out from the coast in these parts (the name means the green goe, or inlet). Standing on the narrow sliver of rock, looking down at the sea angrily churning away at the base, the weight of centuries concentrated in just a few square yards of floorspace, you can’t help wondering how many men were lost down the centuries when they sleepily got up in the middle of the night and popped out to relieve themselves, never to be heard of again (only the sound of a medieval fly being unzipped, a despairing scream and a distant splash). Quite a lot of the castle survives and it’s obvious that, unable to expand sideways, the only way was up. Now after centuries of conflict the ruins are home to nesting seabirds—which seems appropriate, somehow: visiting a ruined castle is like looking at old school photos; it’s pleasant to be reminded now and then of something you’ve outgrown.

I have meanwhile started my next gansey project, a Filey pattern in Frangipani claret for an old friend. I love this colour: like so many gansey yarns, it changes hue with the prevailing light. Sometimes it resembles red wine spilt on a tablecloth; but then the sun floods the room with sunlight and it glows with a sort of ruddy luminescence, as though I was knitting a wooly cover for the Holy Grail. I have perhaps another week of plain knitting at this rate before I start the yoke.

Finally this week, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who’s been in touch, both below the line or by email, wishing me well in recovering from my present illness. Depression is an isolating feeling, and it means a lot to know that so many people care enough to let me know. So thank you; people can be very kind. And speaking of which, I’ve been thinking a lot about an old Cambridge University anecdote Stephen Fry relates in one of his books: as a philosophy of life it seems pretty good to me right now. It goes like this. One day a new Fellow of the College was being welcomed to the senior common room by the other academics; one took him aside and said, “A word of advice: don’t try to be clever. We’re all clever here. Only try to be kind.”

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

20 comments to Filey IV, Week 1: 20 February

  • Annie

    Wish this whole posting could be printed and framed, including the photos, especially the gentleman in the outstanding Gansey with its striking pattern.

    • Gordon

      Hello Annie, what a nice thing to say! Thank you.

      A silver doubloon* to anyone who replicates this entire web page in needlepoint so it can hang on my sitting room wall…!

      [* subject to availability. May be substituted with a chocolate 10 pence piece at the management’s discretion.]

  • Julie

    Look at the way the flags catch the light! Beautiful, Gordon.
    I’m sure I speak for all of your readers when I say that we will look for a post telling us you see light at the end of your tunnel. Best wishes to you.
    VIctoria, BC, Canada

    • Gordon

      Hi Julie, yes, the pattern has a real three-dimensional texture, which the low winter sun here in Caithness—on the rare occasions when it bothers to show its face— picks out nicely.

      And thank you the other matter in your post. I’m delighted to be able to say that, if I can’t actually see the light yet, I now believe that it’s there and it’s just a question of time. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m rather looking forward to a time when I’m too busy working to knit so much!

  • Carol

    Such a lovely post. Thank you for the quote at the end, and for the photo of you in your latest creation – it’s my favourite of all you’ve knitted.

    • Gordon

      Thank you, Carol. I probably put as much care into getting the posts right as I do the knitting, so it’s always nice to know it’s appreciated. And I agree with you about the pattern—it’s already a firm favourite with me, and as a Scot both by ancestry and now by residence I can feel extra patriotic with the design!

  • Christa

    Yes! The gansey looks great! Fantastic! Color and pattern and fit. I allways loved the scottish flags. And I remember you writing in one of your emails that you were planning to knit this gansey (one month ago!) And using the words “easy” and “simple”. Yes, that is what they look like but in real they are a bit of a mindfuck to me. The moment when I finish a row of flags and have to start a new one, this moment is on the reverse side of my knitting, I am lost. I manage, but with difficulty. Maybe I should knit one like yours. For practise.
    You did a great job, again.
    Groetjes, Christa

    • Gordon

      Hi Christa, yes I finally made good on an intention, perhaps for the only time in my life! Mind you, you’d laugh if you’d seen me anxiously holding it up to the light after every row, desperately searching for any mistakes. (I sometimes find it hard to concentrate, and now and then I’d absently slip into the rhythm of the row before and had knit several flags wrong before I was aware of it!)

      My first reaction to seeing the mugshot above was not to look at my face—well, to be honest no good ever comes of that—but I zeroed in straight on the yoke, checking each flag to make sure it was right even now like a Cold War boffin checking aerial photographs for traces of Soviet missile launchers!

      So you are not alone, trust me. No pattern is altogether easy if your mind wanders…

  • =Tamar

    Sinclair’s Bay? For some reason I thought the Sinclairs tended toward the eastern side. Is there a story attached? One of my ancestors was a Sinclair and mightily proud of it, they say, so I take a mild interest.

    • Gordon

      Hello Tamar, well, technically we are on the East Coast up here on the Moray Firth (though to be fair just 20 miles north of us it makes a left turn and becomes the North Coast). And yes, this is Clan Sinclair country (along with Clan Gunn and several others).

      Sinclair Castle (or Girnigoe, you can use either, or both together) has a fairly juice history. The fourth earl’s supposed to have imprisoned his son there in 1577 and ordered that he be given salt beef to eat but no drink, so that he eventually died insane of thirst. (Note to George RR Martin, given his habit of appropriating grisly events from history for his novels: if I see that appearing as a plot device in Game of Thrones anytime soon you can expect a strongly worded letter from my lawyers.)

  • Christa

    That is very kind of you to say. Comforting 😊
    Greetz, Christa

    • Gordon

      Hi Christa, it’s sad but true. I’d have finished the gansey a day earlier if I hadn’t lost so much time carefully going back a row or two to unpick mistakes and redoing them! (Sigh…)

  • Jane

    Magnificent, Gordon, a total triumph and a great addition to your ganseys. Many congratulations. And I know I have said it before, but what a remarkable part of the world you live in!

    I love the colour of the next one and look forward to the next stage.

    Thank you for such an interesting post, and I completely agree, kindness is all. Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, yes, Caithness and Sutherland are very special. But it helps if the sun shines—it’s not so good on days when the wind blows hard and it rains (like today!).

      I’ve become so fond of the claret that I’ve already decided to make myself one in this colour!

  • Linda Abraham

    Looking most dapper in the Gansey! Thanks again for all of your posts, I look forward to Mondays and reading your latest ones! Also appreciate the photos – both yours and Margaret’s…..

    • Gordon

      Hello Linda, and thank you. “Dapper” isn’t a word that’s usually associated with me, to be fair—”slovenly”, “unkempt” and “who is that old man who looks like he’s been rummaging in the bins?” yes, but “dapper” not so much…

      And thanks for the other comments—as long as there are people who want to read them, I hope to keep posting entries, and Margaret photographing!

  • Lois

    Those photos are absolutely stunning! What a beautiful part of the world to live in. As long as you don’t mind a bit of rain and wind to go with it.

    And the latest gansey is a stunner. What an effective pattern! But that gorgeous claret colour is making me drool, can’t wait to see how that turns out.

    Keep up the good work! I watch every Monday for the new posting, that makes my day and I enjoy the photos as much as the dialogue.

    • Gordon

      Hello Lois, yes it’s amazing how much Caithness manages to pack into such a tiny geographical area. And yet people bypass the north Highlands and go straight to Orkney—without ever realising what they’re missing!

      And thank you for your comments. The claret really is a wonderful colour, deep and rich—all it needs is a fiddly Yorkshire pattern to set it off just so!

  • Lois

    And now I know how to describe my art work, when I have to write one of those confounded “artist’s statements” for a piece that is going on exhibition. I never know what to say in those things. But now I can just call it a “fiddly Yorkshire pattern”. Lol

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