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Humber 1: 26 September – 2 October

The warriors in Valhalla

Phew! What a week.

Let’s work backwards. Yesterday we bit the bullet and drove up to Inverness, to look in on the Moray Firth Ganseyfest. (I’m not saying we weren’t keen, but it was Sunday morning, we’d only just got back from a stressful few days in Wick, it’s a 3-hour drive to Inverness and it was pouring with rain: and not just ordinary rain, either, this was hard, angry, Saving-Private-Ryan-machine-gun rain, bridge-is-washed-out, there-goes-grandma kind of rain.)

... or at least their jumpers

It was definitely worth it, though, not least because we got to finally meet some of the readers of this blog (a special hi to Judit of Helsinki and Alison of the USA, hope you got home safely) and put faces to names (in particular Elizabeth Lovick and the friendly people at Frangipani, who were sharing a stall). We didn’t have time to attend any of the talks or workshops, sadly, but we did get to chat with people over lunch and browse the stalls. Everyone seemed to be having a nice, relaxed time, and I’ve never seen so many ganseys in one place (this was where old ganseys go after they die if they’ve been good, a sort of gansey Valhalla). There were even a few of mine hanging on the rack, trying not to look like hobos gatecrashing a society ball. (You can see some good pictures of the event on Liz Lovick’s blog.)

My ganseys hanging on their rack.

As ever, you can’t judge how well a pattern will work till you see it knitted up, and it was interesting to find several patterns that had never caught my imagination in chart form looking remarkably effective on a vintage gansey. (And it’s curious how fine and soft old wool is; I wish you could get yarn like that now.)

The rest of last week was spent up in Wick, trying to find me a place to rent. In most towns, you call an estate agent, they look you out a range of places to try, you go visit them and pick one. It’s really not that hard – except, apparently, in Wick. There, the estate agents don’t get their fingers dirty with anything so vulgar as rentals, and instead tell people to advertise privately. So you have to phone round and email loads of people, only to find that the property’s no longer available, or the people aren’t. In the end, with time running out, the choice came down to a flat that even the landlord described as “cheap, but you get what you pay for” – uh-huh – or a nice house on the outskirts of town, near the airport. Reader, I opted for the house! But I’m still waiting for the contract to come in the post, keeping my fingers crossed and sacrificing chickens* that nothing goes wrong now.

Rather to my surprise it wasn’t raining (most of the time), so we got to see Wick in the sunshine – boats bobbing in the harbour, sunlight glittering on the ocean, birds hanging about the river like bored teenagers – and, like the hobbits in Fangorn forest, we “almost felt we liked the place”.  Just one problem – I don’t think Wick is big on vegetarianism (only one chip shop had a veggie burger as an option, and that was crossed out as no longer available!).

Before I throw myself into Caithness ganseys, as I shall be honour bound to do once I’m up there, I thought I’d try a pattern I’ve always meant to knit but never got around to, one of the keel and sloop patterns from the Humber Estuary recorded by Michael Pearson. As you’ll see, I’ve just started – a cast-on row and a few rows of ribbing. It’s knit in Frangipani conifer, and the ribbing consists of 388 stitches. You’ll have to wait for the pattern itself, though, as it’ll be a yoked pattern only this time, and Lord knows when I’ll get that far if I have to work for a living now…

(*or sacrificing Quorn chicken pieces, anyway. Disclaimer – no fowl were harmed during the making of this blog!)

19 comments to Humber 1: 26 September – 2 October

  • Lynne

    Oh, I’m so envious! Would love to have gone to the Moray Firth ganseyfest. I’ve had conversations on two occasions with Russ from Frangipani and it would have been like visiting the candy store to see their colors in person. It was also interesting to read the blog on Liz’s page about the special glass coasters with imprints of gansey patterns. Did you happen to see those?
    The Frangipani Conifer should work up beautifully!

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    You’ll just have to organise something similar on your side of the pond… (My rates are very reasonable, just the stretch limo and drugs, nothing fancy.)

    I was very restrained, just the 5 cones of Frangipani Aran/natural (I think this is now my favourite colour for ganseys) – but if you ever want to know what one of my migraines feels like, you should see all the Frangipani colours in cones stacked up on a table – like a very bad acid trip! And no, I didn’t get to see the coasters – I understand they were presented to the presenters after everyone else had gone.

    The Ganseyfest website has a good range of pictures in their gallery (you can see Margaret’s back and mine in one or two pictures – should have worn dressier jeans, in retrospect (literally!)…


  • Lynne

    Hey, the jeans didn’t even have holes in the knees or the bum – what can get better than that!

  • Suzanne

    I did try to warn you about the challenge of remaining a vegetarian that far north… I once met a carpenter who had lived in Hawaii for a while; during which time he claimed to have been a vegetarian “if you count fish as a vegetable”. I reckon that your own definition of vegetarianism may be similarly distorted before long.

    You did very well finding a nice house to rent. (Most convenient that it is near the airport!) When I moved to Sandpoint (20 years ago), I had to buy a house because there was absolutely nothing available to rent. Housing is always tricky at the edge of the earth. It is assumed that everyone who might be brave enough to live there already has shelter.

    Thanks for reporting on GanseyFest. It looks as if it was a great success.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    At least we were wearing ganseys! Both as a consequence of losing some weight and buying cheap clothes while I was unemployed my sartorial style sometimes resembles a builder caught up in an explosion in a rag-and-bone shop…


  • Gordon

    G’day Suzanne!

    You know the jokes about Scotsmen claiming the ketchup on their chips equals one of their “5 fruit & veg a day”?! I mostly cook my own food – not many takeaways or ready meals – so, so long as I can get hold of fresh vegetables I should be all right. But if you come visit and find me sitting on the porch gnawing a chicken wing, you’ll know the pod people have got to me and I urge you to suffocate me with a pillow first chance you get.

    You’re so right about housing in remote communities. There are lots of lovely houses to buy (if only we could afford them) in Wick, but not much to rent. We’ll probably look to buy soon anyway – and accept we may never be able to sell if we change our minds. But Wick looks like a good place to settle down in, so who knows?

    With all the winds in Scotland right now, shelter is a moot point!


  • Suzanne

    “so, so long as I can get hold of fresh vegetables I should be all right.” It is the plural in that sentence that may lead to disappointment. I would expect the staple offerings to be somewhat limited at that latitude: spuds, onion, neeps, carrots, apples and cabbage. All good – just a bit repetitive over the course of a long winter. I do hope I’m wrong and that the local supermarket also stocks a variety of produce from much further south.

    This will be quite the adventure!

  • =Tamar

    “A builder caught in an explosion in a rag and bone shop” pretty well describes my sartorial style all the time. Thanks for showing your photos; I hope I can find their website too.
    As for organizing a gansey show over here… If I won the lottery, I just might. I envision a sort of Gansey Summit, with special guests of differing opinions and special editions of out-of-print books brought into print just for the occasion. *sigh*

  • Gordon


    You can access the official Ganseyfest images at http://www.gansey-mf.co.uk/gfestgallery.html.

    I can just imagine a ganseys summit – it would be either be wonderful – or end up like the United Nations during the Cold War, with various people coming to blows over burning issues like whether you could recognise a drowned sailor by his gansey or not…! (Or am I just jaundiced about human nature?)

    My aim is to turn Wick into a centre of gansey excellence, so watch this space! Maybe we can organise something up there one of these days.


  • Gordon


    Well, since I’m the sort of vegetarian who doesn’t really like vegetables (add frozen peas and cauliflower to your list and that’s about it) it may not be as difficult as you fear! Next week I’ll try to take some pictures of the veggie section in Wick’s Tescos to show you our options. Failing that, I already know they do decent cream cakes – whipped cream counts as fruit, right?


  • I don’t get it. How can you be a vegetarian, but not like veggies? I’m looking forward to hearing about what you find to make in the end of the earth Wick in the middle of winter.

    When do we get pictures of the new house!


  • Gordon

    Hi Song,

    I went veggie back in the 70s in the face of factory farming and battery hens. A lot has changed since then, and if I was starting out now I’d probably just go for ethically sourced meat, which is now common in supermarkets over here (especially since some celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver have embraced the cause). But I’m now too old to change (my self-image these days is basically like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, as I just about have enough energy to pull the hessian blanket over my wasted frame, as I utter cryptic words of wisdom to my impetuous young apprentice while waiting to make The Great Change…) Where was I? Oh yes, vegetarianism. So I’m a conviction veggie, not out of preference, which should give me some bonus karma points, especially since it means i have to eat – guk – vegetables.

    Don’t let me mislead you – the people of Wick aren’t forced to scrabble for root vegetables from the frozen ground with rusted scraps of iron over the winter months, from which they make a crude pottage padded out with scraps of newspaper or starved and careless rats – there’s a supermarket the size of a medium aircraft carrier next to the airport (they sell newspapers – don’t think there are any rats!).

    I’m hoping to move up later next week, so pics will follow. In the meantime I have a lot of packing and panicking to do!


  • Nigel

    It’s not the end of the earth, just almost.

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel, Maybe so, but it still feels like The End of the World As We Know It – but you’ll be glad to know, I Feel Fine.


  • Nigel

    I’m very glad to hear you settling in.
    I wish you all the best.

  • Judit

    Hi Gordon and thanks for your last letter! I enjoyed all the ganseys and the talks in Iverness, it was nice meeting you and your wife – I saw the cardigan you knitted for her – it`s great !
    Best regards from Finland !

  • Annalies

    Hi Gordon, toi,toi,toi, tomorrow.


  • Alison

    I recognised Elisabeth’s gansey immediately!! It was one of the highlights of the trip to GanseyFest to meet you both and the other teachers, vendors and enthusiasts. What a treat to see so many ganseys. You are right, it is hard to judge a pattern until you see it knitted! I came home to Minnesota with 5 cones of Frangipani yarn (plus a few balls and hanks from F and other vendors). I am still knitting a sampler hat from the design I started in Elizabeth Lovick’s workshop but have not yet had time to sit down to look at her workshop CD….

  • Gordon

    Hi Alison,

    I’m glad you got so much out of Ganseyfest – and not just the cones of yarn! – hopefully there’ll be other events, and I’d rather like to be more involved (maybe someone will invite me one of these days!).

    Anyway, best of luck with your projects in Minnesota – let us know how your gansey works out…

    Best wishes