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Hebrides II (Revisited): Week 1 – 17 February

Another week, another storm system sweeps across the British Isles, depositing a month’s rainfall in a day, gale force winds bringing down everything from power lines to trees: now we know how a ninepin feels when the next bowling ball comes smashing down the lane. At least here in Caithness we’ve been getting off relatively lightly. Partly because we hardly have any trees to begin with, of course; but mostly because we’re sheltered by a chain of mountains to west and south which seem to soak up most of the rain and snow before it can reach us. And though the fields here are now so waterlogged that I expect the farmers to switch to planting rice, the county is in effect a promontory and excess water drains off via the cliffs like waves in a heavy sea breaking over the prow of a ship.

Late afternoon snowdrops

We can’t escape the wind, though. It’s been relentless, gusting up to 60 mph for days on end. We went down to Sarclet Harbour to look at the waves. The whole sea was a churning, heaving cauldron of foam and spray, as though God had dropped a giant bath bomb into the water and then sneezed. We only stayed a few uncomfortable minutes before we groped our way back to the car, feeling like blind men who’d wandered onto the field of Twickenham in the middle of a particularly brutal rugby match. Any seagull who ventured out of shelter was whisked away in an instant: there was only time for it to swear briefly before it vanished out of existence like a spaceship in a Star Wars movie going into hyperspace.

Sea at Sarclet

In such circumstances the only thing to do is brew up some hot, strong coffee, draw the curtains against the draught, and knit a gansey. As heavily trailed last week, this is another Hebridean pattern. It’s one I’ve knit before; but that was in another country, and besides, the yarn is different. This time I’m using Frangipani Breton, a glorious coppery-red, and what a relief it is to be working with such smooth, consistent yarn again. It’s sort of a commission, for a friend-of-a-friend, and it’s going to be interesting seeing how the pattern scales down for a smaller original (42″ in the round, as opposed to my usual 46″) and with my current stitch gauge of 8 stitches to the inch. We’ll talk patterns another time, but so far I have cast on 320 stitches for the welt, increasing to 340 for the body. So far, it’s a joy to knit. (Hang on to that thought: Ed.)

Sheep on a hillside

Finally this week, more random fun with words. The Hobbit is one of my favourite books, and it’s been pointed out that—unlike in Lord of the Rings— almost all the place names in it are just nouns and adjectives (The Shire, The Lonely Mountain, The Misty Mountains, Lake Town, Dale, etc.). One exception to this is a rock called The Carrock, on the border of the skin-changer Beorn’s lands. Bilbo asks Gandalf what it means, and is crushingly put down: “[Beorn] called it the Carrock, because carrock is his word for it. He calls things like that carrocks, and this one is the Carrock because it is the only one near his home.” But this is really an in-joke on Tolkien’s part. Words and their meanings were his passion and his life; and “carrock” is his made-up amalgamation of carr [the Anglo-Saxon word for rock] and rock (as well as an echo of the Welsh word for rock, carreg). So when Bilbo asks the derivation of one of the few names in the book with a meaning, Tolkien deliberately points out the ultimate folly of derivations: names only mean what things are.

Oh, and my favourite fact of the week? In past times, sailors called penguins “arse-feet” because their feet are set so far back on their bodies… Stay dry and stay safe.

8 comments to Hebrides II (Revisited): Week 1 – 17 February

  • =Tamar

    Carrock, being essentially Rock-rock, is still a name that is just a noun, only it’s multilingual, like Torpenhow Hill.

    I like that shade of red.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I do find words interesting. I read that Tolkien deliberately gave his places different types of names to get you as a reader to feel that the characters were in different parts of the world. So as the hobbits leave the Shire they go to Bree with its Celtic-derived names of Combe, Archet and Chetwood: it’s already different.

      And yes, Frangipani Breton is a lovely shade of red, isn’t it?

  • It’s a lovely coppery red and I can really see the pattern taking shape.It is going to be fabulous. I would love to have seen the sea at Sarclet.You make it sound so dramatic and atmospheric Gordon. The painting of the sheep on the hillside is beautiful.

    • Gordon

      Hi Laura, one thing about living up here, the landscape does all the heavy lifting; I just have to go out and look at it! If I lived in Kettering this blog would have dried up years ago…

  • Jane Callaghan

    Carreg is also the Carrick of Carrick Roads on the Fal, and the Cornish village name Angarrack, meaning The Rock. Not you, Dwayne….

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane,

      If only Rock Hudson had been his real name! But then, “Bryn” as in Bryn Terfyl means “hill” (hmmm: my spellchecker just changed “Terfyl” to “tearful”…)

  • Ellie

    Here in Boulder, Colorado in the US (yes, the name of the town is in fact Boulder), we have a main thoroughfare and associated transit station called Table Mesa. Mesa, of course, is the Spanish word for Table. So it’s Table Table Drive and Table Table Station.

    • Gordon

      Hi Ellie, I still live in hopes of one day finding a name made up of words in different languages that means “Big Rock Candy Mountain”! But language is littered with names where settlers of one culture have asked natives of the previous culture what things were called and then gave them tautological names. Loch Watten (“lake lake”) round by us us one, but River Avon (“river river”) is perhaps the most obvious example in England…

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