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Filey IV, Week 3: 6 March

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.)

The Castle from the seaward side

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.

Not the Old Man of Wick

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.


“One of the best Filey patterns” – Gladys Thompson

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.

12 comments to Filey IV, Week 3: 6 March

  • Lynne

    That’s a really attractive pattern, I know how fiddly that seed stitch can be but it’s sure an attractive filler stitch. I think you’ve invented a gansey robot at the rate you’re whipping them out these days! The Claret color sure defines the stitches.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, no robot gansey machine alas, just lots of spare time just now! (And numerous box sets of Wagner’s operas, Mahler and Bruckner symphonies, Mozart and Beethoven piano concertos, and Handel oratorios to listen to…)

      Claret really suits this pattern—of course, I’d hoped it would but you never quite know till you see it for real. (As it happens, although it’s for someone else, it’s just my size; I’m already wondering if it could end up mysteriously “lost in the post”…)

  • =Tamar

    Weather reports – sometimes I think we were better off when we didn’t have them made so precisely. It’s easier to accept variations from “cold” than to accept that “48-F” turns out to be more like “40-F with a wind-chill factor of 10”.

    I’m a little confused by the chart, because I counted 15 stitches for the width of the chevron, plus a background stitch on either side.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, today we woke up to bright sunshine. At 8.00am the BBC weather app showed unbroken sunshine all the way to mid-afternoon. By 9.00 am it had clouded over, so, in some dudgeon, I checked the weather app again: it had changed to show cloud all morning!

      Thanks for picking up the chevron count—you’re right, the chevron is 15 stitches, with a border stitch each side to make the panel 17 stitches. I’ve amended the text in the post to clarify what I meant (hopefully!).

  • Jane Callaghan

    There was a post on facebook a couple of weeks ago about weather forecasts, along the lines of ‘For the South, there is strong risk of structural damage and motorists are advised to make only essential journeys. For the north, you’ll need yer big coat.’

  • Lois

    I can relate to those weather forecasts, living on the Atlantic coast of Canada. While the weather forecaster is painting a scene of disaster and desolation for the central part of the country (read that as “Toronto”), the Atlantic provinces are not even mentioned. Being true Maritimers, we pay no attention and just hunker down and wait it out.

    And that gorgeous claret colour is turning out true to its promise, shows off that pattern in all its glory.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, we suspect we mostly get Inverness’s weather forecast, the nearest big town 100 miles south of here. Although, to be fair, I know that something like 4 weather systems all collide just off the coast of Caithness so it’s very hard to predict. It’s just that the BBC advertises its weather app with a trailer that implies it’s so accurate it can predict the weather from one garden to the next!

      And the colour is a beaut. This is definitely a gansey for swigging the after-dinner burgundy in!

  • Ruby

    Thank you so much for displaying both the chart and your knitted work. I helps me ‘see’ the transition from the graph and the resulting fabric. I’m very new to ganseys so your work is so educational. I also VERY much appreciated your discussion of how you adapted from the graph to the number of stitches that you are using for the size of the garment. I so appreciate your time and effort to help me learn.

    • Gordon

      Hello Ruby, I’m glad you found it useful. I’m never sure how much detail to go into because i know the site is visited by people with a lot of experience of knitting ganseys, some with none, and some who never plan to knit one—they just like the anecdotes and the photos.

      I’ve never knit a gansey from a written-out pattern, I’ve always looked at the books or photos and taken the pattern charts and tweaked them to fit whatever size I’m knitting. So this is second nature to me, but I also know that it’s not always easy, especially if you’re not used to it. The advantage is, you can play around with the patterns to suit your taste. (I do this all the time. I like the sort of diamonds you get in the Matt Cammish pattern from Filey, so I sometimes substitute them for seed stitch ones in a pattern; or, to take another example, my personal feeling is that cabling every seventh row is just right—cabling on the 6th feels too tight, and on the 8th row too loose—so I do that, regardless of the original. But it’s just a question of taste. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary!)

      This is what makes it a living tradition, for me. Every knitter adapts a pattern to their own bent. (In the case of my needles—very bent…)

      Thank you for your kind comment. It’s much appreciated.

  • Jenny

    Hello Gordon,

    I knitted a Filey gansey for my husband many years ago from Glady’s book too and quite similar to yours in Frangipani’s pistachio. I don’t have an image handy to share just now. I tweaked my pattern too. You hit the nail on the head, Gordon, that knitting ganseys is a living tradition. And that’s the beauty of ganseys.

    I see that you got to do a version of Matt Camish’s gansey. It’s lovely. It’s been one of favorites in Glady’s book. I hope I’ll find the time to knit one but my granddaughter has taken most of my knitting time for her knitwear.

    Talking about the weather forecast, I just added Wick on my iPhone just now, Friday, Mar 10. As of 4:26PM UK time, it says it’s 8 degrees centigrade (46 F but feels like 40 F), showers currently but by 6PM it will stop. It will remain cloudy the rest of the evening. Sunset is at 6:03PM. How accurate is this forecast?

    And I am glad to be back after a long absence.

    Victoria, BC

  • Jane

    Glorious stuff Gordon, just glorious. You have another triumph there, beautiful colour, lovely pattern. Gladys calls it the best Filey pattern. What a shame this one is spoken for, you definitely need one of these for yourself!

    The whole business of weather forecasting seems a bit hit and miss to me, despite all our wonderful technology! It always strikes me that careful observation of evening weather and sticking the head out first thing is a pretty good way to go! Take care!

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