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Inverallochy, Week 5: 29 January

It’s hard not to walk around Dunnet Forest without thinking of J.R.R. Tolkien: the trees sway and creak as you pass as if they were sentient, and groan hollowly, like an elderly whale complaining about modern popular music. One day scientists will decode the language of trees and they will record the voice of the forest and play it back speeded up many times: and a ghostly, eldritch voice will emerge from the speaker, saying, “Windy, isn’t it?”

It was mostly to escape the wind that we went for a walk in the forest on Saturday, a wild, blustery day. The wind had clearly taken its toll, for many trees had been uprooted and were lying at a drunken angle, as though God had decided in an idle moment to see if He could lay a forest the same way people lay a hedge. I always get lost in Dunnet Forest. The paths are never quite as I remember, and I think the trees shift about when no one’s looking, like those in Tolkien’s Old Forest. There’s no Old Man Willow at the heart of Dunnet, radiating malice, but I do keep hoping I’ll run into Old Man Mountain Pine, or Old Man Lodgepole.

There are always people in Dunnet Forest, too, walking dogs or just walking; attracted, I suspect, by the singular novelty of finding trees growing in Caithness. I read once that the Monty Python team took a flight across the Atlantic, and Terry Gilliam looked out the window and cried excitedly, “Wow, a whole bunch of water!” That’s Dunnet Forest—a whole bunch of trees.

In gansey news I have started the pattern. In a late change, I’ve decided to add chevron panels, three per side. For a gansey this size I just felt it would look better, add contrast, and be more fun to knit, but it was really just a hunch. And by a very happy coincidence it fitted the number of stitches at my disposal almost exactly, without the need to play around with the widths (note to beginners: this never happens). In the course of the next week I should finish the gussets and divide for front and back, by which point the pattern should be clearer.

Finally this week, I wanted to mention two gansey books. The first, just published, is Sheringham Ganseys by Rita Taylor, Lesley Lougher, Jan Hillier and Lisa Little, from the Sheringham Museum Norfolk Trust Ltd. It’s a cracking little book, meticulously researched, with black and white and colour photographs, patterns and social history combined, and a pleasure to pick up, dip into and read (at a sitting, as I did).

The other book is River Ganseys by Penelope Lister Hemingway, published by Cooperative Press. This came out a few years ago, and I should of course have mentioned it before, for which I can only apologise. (I got hold of a copy round about the time I became ill last year, and it just sort of got caught up in the general tide of badness that washed me away.) Anyway, this too in its different way is an essential purchase. It’s a staggeringly well researched book on knitting and ganseys (and river ganseys) in Yorkshire. Like Sheringham Ganseys it’s both a social history and a knitting book, setting the scene historically before discussing techniques and offering a wide range of patterns—the last quarter of the book (it’s over 200 pages) consisting almost entirely of patterns. It’s a shame that some of the photographs aren’t clearer but that doesn’t detract from its value and importance, surely the last word on its subject.

Even if you already have the books by Thompson, Pearson or Compton these new ones deserve a place on your bookshelf, and the authors are to be congratulated for producing such valuable contributions to the literature.

4 comments to Inverallochy, Week 5: 29 January

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