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Inverallochy, Week 6: 5 February

Caithness used to be part of the Viking earldom of Orkney, and I’ve been wading up to my knees in its cheerfully blood-soaked history. Well, I say history—actual records are in short supply, so for most of the time you have to take the sagas on trust; which is a bit like writing the history of postwar Europe using only back copies of the Daily Mail.

The first rule of being a successful Viking was, of course, to cheat. The sagas are full of gentlemen’s agreements between rival lords, promising to settle their differences by meeting at a certain place with a set number of followers—only for one of them to turn up with a small army and slaughter the other. The standard clause was for a certain number of horses and their riders, but obviously some Vikings had better lawyers than others and turned up with several men per horse, breaking the spirit, if not the letter, of the pact. (This happens so often I imagine the average Viking horde arriving in something like the human pyramid favoured by motorcycle display teams, or the sheep in Aardman Animation’s A Close Shave. On the plus side, even if you ended up slain you’d go out in style.)

View from the Castle, Inverness

My favourite candidate for most ironic Viking death is that of Sigurd the Mighty. In 892 he was campaigning in Sutherland, and having defeated a Celtic chieftain he then, as was his custom, attached the severed head of his fallen enemy to his saddle. The dead man had a protruding tooth which cut Sigurd’s thigh—the wound became infected, and, there not being a doctor on hand to prescribe him a course of antibiotics, Sigurd died of it. (I like to think he was serenaded to his grave by Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons going, “Ha, ha!”)

Waves at John o’Groats

Not much to report on the gansey front this week. I am almost to the end of the gussets (slightly longer given the size of the garment), and the pattern is becoming clearer. At some point in the coming week I shall divide for front and back, after which progress should be more noticeable.

Finally, a curiosity for fans of Treebeard the Ent, one of those shepherds of trees from The Lord of the Rings. There once was a Viking earl of Orkney called Einar (nicknamed “Turf” for some obscure reason). The sagas say that he began his rule by defeating a couple of Danish Vikings who’d taken up residence in Orkney—one of whom was named Thorir “Treebeard”. Isn’t that great? The saga includes the line, “Turf-Einar gave Tree-Beard to the trolls“, a poetical way of saying he killed him. Tolkien of course knew the sagas inside out, and, as he often did, must have taken the name and reforged it in the crucible of his own imagination. (Mind you, the other Viking was called Kalf Scurvy—can’t imagine why Tolkien didn’t borrow that one too…)

9 comments to Inverallochy, Week 6: 5 February

  • Lynne

    Really nice choice of pattern for a large gansey, Gordon – who wouldn’t be happy with that !!

    • Gordon

      Hello Lynne, how nice to hear from you—well, anyone, really!—and thank you. You never know how something will knit up, and of course the colour changes the way things look. But cream yarn really shows light and shade, and the Betty Martin pattern stands out nicely, very definite.My only trouble is, I’ve picked up a cold and just want to go to bed of an evening, so progress may not be rapid…

  • Judit M. / Finland

    Hello Gordon, The pattern looks fine and it is not very complicated ! It would be nice to see the gentleman wearing this gansey !

    • Gordon

      Hello Judit, yes I’m hoping it still looks as good when it’s knitted up. Mind you, I currently have a cold which is perilously close to flu, and don’t even have the energy to pick up my needles, so it will all have to wait, I’m afraid.

  • =Tamar

    I’m wondering whether “turf” has the same meaning in Old Norse that it does in modern English. It might be one of those annoying nicknames that the recipient dislikes.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, the original is, I think, the Old Norse word “torf” – maybe he earned the nickname by claiming his lands by driving out the other Vikings; or maybe he was just a keen gardener, famous for his begonias and aubergines, who knows!

  • Jane

    Very sorry to hear about the cold Gordon. Remember to rest, keep warm and take plenty of fluids, you have heard this all before. Do not do what I did, keep going, and with proper flu, the after effects are still with me weeks later. It is a warning, well it was to me, do not get overtired!!

    The gansey looks wonderful, the pattern is lovely, and it has gently changed as it has grown. I have found in knitting for my husband and son-in-law that patience is vital with larger knits, they do progress but in their own way, I am sure you know all this! Take care!

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