Summer returned this weekend, like a guest you thought had gone but who came back for her umbrella and stayed for a cup of tea and a scone; and so, as it was a warm and sunny afternoon, with a light sea breeze and blue skies from horizon to horizon, we jumped in the car and went to Lybster. (Seeing the sun acts on us much as the bat-signal affects Batman; we change clothes and jump in the car—with only this difference, that he combats flamboyant villains, whereas we go out for tea and cakes.)
Lybster (the y is pronounced long, to rhyme with “lie” and not “lip”) is a small fishing village with semi-detached harbour, thirteen miles south of Wick. You can drive all the way down to the harbour, but we parked up in the village and walked the steep road to sea level. That way we got a stunning view of the harbour and the sun-dappled sea beyond, framed by the jagged cliffs that shelter the bay; and also of the Reisgill burn, the stream that plunges down from a rocky defile and runs into the sea.
Like so many of the east coast harbours, Lybster was developed for the herring fishing. It’s said that in Victorian times the fleet consisted of some 357 boats (which seems an awful lot to me, but who am I to argue with the internet?), and 50,000 barrels of herring were shipped out each year; now there are just a handful of small boats fishing for lobsters and crabs.
But Lybster harbour has two things going for it the other little Caithness harbours we’ve visited don’t: a café, and tourists. A former smokehouse has been converted into a café and visitor centre, and on Sunday several people were sitting outside in the sunshine, having a drink and watching the waves breaking on the shingle beach, and the seabirds wheeling below the cliffs, with that peaceful vacancy of mind that comes from a sunny day and nothing particular to do. (If I’m honest, my idea of an afterlife would be much like this; especially if, as Lybster did, it involves ice cream.)
I’ve had a cold—one of those tiresome sort that leaves you constantly fatigued, and in need of a sympathetic person to bathe your temples in lavender water every few minutes (I did suggest this to my colleague at work, but she was surprisingly unenthusiastic). As a result I’ve really got my head down and done a lot of knitting, and am now embarked on the gussets.
I should have said last week, I cast on 312 stitches, which I increased to 336 after the welt. (I’m still working to my new, looser stitch gauge of 8 stitches to the inch.) This gives me 2 seam stitches, and 167 stitches front and back; each seam stitch is flanked by 3 plain knit stitches. The pattern consists of 13 blocks of seed stitch alternating with 12 of basket.
It’s turned cloudy again today, and the wind’s got up. But I don’t care. If I close my eyes I’m still sitting on Lybster harbour steps, the sun on my face, the cries of the birds and the crash of the waves in my ears, Orkney ice cream burning my tongue—and the long, hot walk back up the road to the village yet to do. In a couple of months the clocks go back: I’ve got to remember there can be days like this…