What, I hear you ask, is the most annoying thing about BBC weather forecasts for the far north of Scotland? Is it the way the presenters airily refer to 60-70 mph winds up here as “a bit breezy”, but when England and Wales are affected they adopt the tone of grief counsellors and warn of “severe winds causing possible structural damage“?
Or is it the fact that they’ve devised a weather map based on the curvature of the Earth, only exaggerated, so that London and Cornwall are huge but Caithness disappears over the horizon in such a vanished perspective it’s essentially two-dimensional? (Honestly, the only way I can even see our forecast these days is to stand on a chair and tilt my head so that one ear rests on my shoulder.)
No, it’s neither of these. Instead, it’s the fiendishly misleading BBC weather app on my phone, which is so inaccurate the only explanation I can think of is that it’s managed by a disgruntled imp inside the device, like one of Terry Pratchett’s disorganisers. Locals of course just laugh when you point this out, and tell you that the only reliable way to tell the weather up here is to stick your head out the window; but I keep falling for it, like a mark who’s bet the mortgage money that the ball must lie under the last cup.
So it was that when the app forecast a fine, sunny day last week and we decided to revisit the ruined castle of Old Wick, jutting out into the North Sea on another of the distinctive local promontories, or goes, we got soaked in a brutal shower of sleet and hail. You approach the castle along a track near the cliff edge. This is boggy country and the ground absorbs water like a sponge; it’s like walking on a sponge, too, dark water oozing up over your boots and bubbles of mud swelling and popping with an asthmatic sigh with every step, like a hyperborean Rotorua.
The castle dates back to the 12th century, when Caithness was under Norse rule and (he says smugly) is one of the oldest castles in Scotland. Only the base of the Tower House remains, though once it would have been four storeys high. Any other buildings that would have covered the promontory have disappeared, so that the tower juts up from the land like a broken tooth; so distinctive that fishermen used it as a landmark, and called it The Old Man of Wick (a soubriquet I feel I am not far from myself).
We didn’t linger—the hail was painful, like three or four devils flicking their sharp fingernails in your face, and the wind was bitter—but the weather held long enough for us to catch our breath and pace the ruins. We’re so used to the great castles of the later middle ages it’s always a shock to realise how small most early castles were (a historian once described the early Norman castles of mid Wales as being more like tipis than castles). In fact, when I think of a castle, I think of something like Gormenghast: not something smaller than my house.
The pattern is from Gladys Thompson, page 33, “Filey X”. The chest is 46 inches in the round, so I cast on 336 stitches for the welt ribbing, increased after 3.5 inches to 368 for the body, which is plain until the yoke. That gives my standard 183 stitches per side, plus 2 seam stitches.
To make the pattern fit the number of stitches usually involves some finessing of the various panels, but this pattern was a very close match. I knew I wanted a central chevron (or herringbone as Gladys calls it), so it was a question of working out from there. I left the cables and moss stitch panels alone, not least because moss stitch is a fiddly pattern and I didn’t want more of that than I could help; but I found that by making the chevron panel 17 stitches wide instead of the original 13 I had a total of 185 stitches per side. I therefore increased each side by 2 stitches at the start of the pattern to give me the right number.
I decided to open the chevrons out from the original. This was partly practical, as the start of the next chevron comes on the last row of the one before, so it’s easy to keep track of; but it’s also aesthetic, as it think it fits the wider chevrons better.