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North Sea 3: 17 – 23 September

Here’s a thought—Margaret tells me Ganseys.com has just passed 200 posts (this is number 201). Which—taking into account breaks for holidays, nervous prostration, etc.—means we’ve been going for nearly six years. Six years! No wonder I’m feeling old. Back then I was a mere stripling, still had my own hair and didn’t have to walk round with the neighbour’s cat velcroed to my scalp (honestly: do you think anyone can tell?).

It’s been a beautiful weekend in Caithness, crisp autumn sunshine and blue skies, but with that bite in the wind that tells you the equinox is past and the winter dark is coming with all the grim inevitability of a dental appointment. So we went to the Whaligoe Steps.

The steps start at bottom left and zigzag up to the top. Part of the salt-house can been on the right.

Whaligoe is a natural harbour just a few miles south of Wick, a narrow cleft cut out of the coast like the first slice from a cake. It’s not very accessible; basically, you look down on the bay from the cliffs, a drop as sheer as a four-storey office block. But harbours are pretty rare along here, and you have to make the most of what you’ve got, so a couple of hundred years ago over 300 stone steps were laid in a zig-zag all the way down to the bottom of the cliff, where an artificial grassy area (“the size of a tennis court”, as the guide books say) was laid, called the Bink.

Cormorant on Muckle Loups and, slightly below and to the left, a mooring ring.

Boats—up to twenty-four at the height of the Victorian fishing boom—would come into the harbour and tie up at the Neist, a rocky shelf, and would unload creels of herring, which would be carted or winched up to the Bink, gutted by the fisher lassies and packed (you can still see the ruins of a shed where the salt was stored) and then put to one side until a schooner could call and pick them up. Barrels and salt had to be carted down the 300+ steps from the top of the cliff. (My legs were protesting long before I reached the bottom, and it was a fine day; but doing it on a cold day, in the driving wind, with the rain making the steps slick and slippery, casks of salt on my back?—I think not!)

On the way down the steps. Gordon is mid-picture, disappearing around the curve of the steps.

On the way down the steps. Gordon is mid-picture, disappearing around the curve of the steps.

Hard to imagine now, but at one time it would have been full of activity and bustle. Now it’s just another monument of weathered stone, deserted as a ruined medieval monastery, with that same sense of sadness and stillness; the only life, the bright mustard-coloured lichen on the sea-facing rocks and the odd German Stuka pilot reincarnated as a seagull.

So Whaligoe is worth a visit next time you’re passing. And—how civilised is this?—there’s now a cafe-restaurant on top of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. So you can slog all the way down and back up, and treat yourself to a very nice coffee and piece of cake without feeling guilty, because you’ve (probably) earned it.

Gordon on the Bink, showing the bottom of the steps. The Neist is in the background.

In gansey news, I have finished the garter stitch welt and the inch of plain knitting that tops it, and have started the pattern for the body (albeit only just). Because I’ve run on so much about the dear old Steps, I’m afraid I don’t have space here to give you the pattern charts—they’ll have to wait for next week (ain’t I a tease?). But as you can see each side of the gansey will be divided into seven panels, each twenty-five stitches wide. Each panel is separated from its neighbour by a two-stitch cable (cabled every sixth row), flanked on each side by two purl stitches. The panels will alternate an open moss-stitch diamond and a zig-zag (although I still have an open mind about the zig-zag). Much more on this next week.

So there we are. As some of you will remember, I gave up chocolate (and cheese and crisps) a couple of years ago, when the doctors checked my cholesterol and then advised me to stick to reading only short books in future—or maybe just haiku poetry—just in case… But if 200 posts isn’t a milestone worth celebrating, then I don’t know what is.

Now, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, we’re getting an incredible 150,000-plus hits a month—and the number is growing all the time (we are the Gansey Nation, guys). I know that some of you have been here from the very beginning, while others come in all the time, and others drop in and out, depending on mood and circumstances. So: thanks to all of you who’ve made Ganseys.com such a success—and who make it worth our while to keep it going. Here’s to the next 200! (Or, well—given that my cholesterol has just taken one more for the team—let’s say 25 for now, and we’ll see how it goes, shall we…?)

View from the Bink seaward, with Muckle Loups in the centre

20 comments to North Sea 3: 17 – 23 September

  • Dave

    We couldn’t come to read it if you didn’t write it; we would not come back if it wasn’t so witty and informative. I doubt that I would have started my sort-of-a-gansey if not for this blog, and I KNOW that I would not have finished it without the video on how to pick up stitches around the sleeve (I guess that I would have a sort-of-a-gansey vest.) As I slowly work on my pretty-nearly-the-real-thing gansey, I often refer to the how-to sections to see if I’m on the right track.

    Thank you, Gordon and Margaret, and a deep bow from the waist of a loyal reader.

  • Lynne

    I agree with Dave, the information I’ve gleaned from your site, Gordon AND Margaret, has encouraged me to come out of my knitting “box” and experiment with my own gansey measurements and designs. And it’s much more than ganseys – your travelogs and descriptions of your new area have, more than once, sent me to Google Earth to more define locations. Thank you ever so much for giving us a reason to look forward to Mondays, sharing your books, giving us great belly laughs in your narrative, and – now – Caithness At War!

  • Gordon

    Dear Dave and Lynne,

    Well. I actually blushed when I read that. Thank you. I wasn’t fishing for compliments, though, honestly! It just blows me away that so many people tune in each week. (Mind you, I keep hoping we’ll get bought out for a small fortune by a multinational corporation one of these days, like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and we can retire to somewhere warm and Not At All Windy…)

    Gordon

  • Sue G.

    I agree with Dave and Lynne. I look forward to your blog every Monday. Watching you work on your ganseys bit by bit helped me to make (and finish!) my son’s gansey–which he wore for the first time yesterday. Now I’m swatching for a gansey for myself. Same yarn as my son’s sweater, but coned instead of balls. I don’t know if that changes gauge, but I planned my sweater using the gauge I got before, but found I was knitting more tightly, so I had to rip it out and swatch again. So the new sweater will be based on whatever gauge I get today. Anyway, your writing is enjoyable and your pictures make me want to go see those places for myself.

  • Gordon

    Hi Sue,

    Well, as I always say, if I can do it, anyone can.

    I’m not aware of my gauge changing between balls and cones, but that’s an interesting point. I think I find cables make a bigger difference, knitting with dpns or circular needles, or stockinette as opposed to a pattern with lots of purls. (Though knowing my unscientific approach, probably what I had for breakfast too!)

    And thanks for the kind words, as ever,
    Gordon

  • =Tamar

    Just don’t let them put you on Lipitor; being on it is strongly associated with adult-onset diabetes among people of my acquaintance. Everyone’s metabolism is different, of course. Still, one friend of mine went off it and onto Chinese herbs, which not only work much better for him, they also don’t interfere with his having an occasional beer.

    The gansey is beginning to show evidence of its proper form; congratulations! I may yet knit that second mitten…

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Good Morning Gordon,
    Many thanks for the last post. I enjoyed the scenery of old culture and scottish nature. As to the blog I am very happy every Monday reading it. As I am probably the only one in this group whose mothertongue is not English I also enjoy your style and the English language. Not to speak about the ”gansy”.
    About cholesterol: Have you ever heared the name of the Finnish product: Benecol ? It is available in the UK, just click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benecol
    Here in Finland we have good experiences with this, combined with diet. The spread is more difficult to use as the drinks, you need only one drink daily. Good luck with Benecol :).
    Best regards:
    Judit

  • Freyalyn

    Well, I’ve been hanging around here for a while and still keep coming back, so it must be worth reading. (But I do wish you’d change the quote on the top – it wasn’t movie-Aragorn whose quote you’ve semi-appropriated, but movie-Haldir. Not that I’m the slightest bit geeky about such things….) And I must get on my gansey now.

  • Gordon

    Hi Freyalyn,

    And thanks – but prepare to be out-geeked! The quote is by Aragorn in the book, but they gave the line to Haldir in the film.

    `Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ [Aragorn] said, `and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as a living man.”

  • Gordon

    Hello Judit,

    Thank you (though sometimes I fear the English language may never forgive me for the damage I inflict on it!)

    I do drink Benecol of a morning (or one of the variants thereof) – but mostly because I like the taste, rather than for health reasons… (As for diet, oatmeal is good for cholesterol, until you smother it in cream and sugar – alas!)

    Heard a radio feature this morning on eating healthily, and someone described a Scotch egg (a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausagemeat and deep-fried)as a “fat man’s apple”!

    Gordon

  • Evelyn

    Love to start my week with your blog, Gordon. I’m a knitter living midst the cornfields of western Iowa. Not only do I enjoy reading about your gansey projects; but I love your tales about the Scottish countryside. My great-grandmother was a red-headed Scotswoman from Glasgow. Your stories bring her closer to me. Thank you so much.

  • Gordon

    Hi Evelyn,

    And thanks for getting in touch. Glasgow is a great city with a great heritage, plus a symphony orchestra, an Apple Store and lots of Starbucks coffee shops, so very different from Caithness! (And yes, I do miss all that.) I’ve never been to Iowa but I imagine you don’t get much salt spray out there…

    Hope you continue to find the blog of interest,
    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Wow, Gordon, that’s a LOT of posts! I’m really impressed.

    I agree with everyone else, though: we come here for your delightful prose, interesting pictures, lovely knitting and biting wit.

    I’ve been every so slowly inching my way towards knitting my own gansey and your pictures and guidance are invaluable. And encouraging.

    Now all I have to do is finish several of the other knitting projects I’ve got going on. *sigh*

    SongBird

  • Sandra

    Hi Gordon I also have to agree with everyone else, wouldn’t miss reading your post every week, not to mention the invaluable information and support I have gained from your site and you yourself. I’m sure it would have taken me longer than the six months it did to knit my first gansey had it not been for your website. You can’t beat a good laugh when you’ve had to rip out several rows of knitting because the initials just don’t look right!! Keep up the good work, Sandra

  • Gordon

    Tamar, I’m naturally suspicious of any herbal medicine – but anything that doesn’t get in the way of the occasional beer is all right by me!

  • Gordon

    Hi Song and Sandra,

    Well, it’s occurred to me over the last few months that there’s only so much you can say about knitting ganseys, which is why my blog has increasingly strayed into other territory, some of it only tangentially connected to reality.

    I planned to take stock over Christmas and think about where it was going – what I wanted to do with it, life, etc. – since it’s just kind of evolved to this point more or less by accident. (For instance, I’d love to develop an interactive app that includes video tutorials, patterns and instructions – that kind of thing – for today’s youngsters who need up-to-the-minute gansey advice on the go…)

    Lots to think about,
    Gordon

  • Veronica

    Dear Gordon and Margaret,
    When you take stock over Christmas, please keep in
    A) the ponderings (cat velcroed to scalp! LOL!),
    B) the mini travel-logs (I’m making a list based on your comments.),
    C) the tidbits from your latest books and
    D) the meanderings about knitting and ganseys.
    Leave any of those out and I think you’ll hear the screams of outrage all the way in Wick even during one of those hurricanes the locals consider just “a bit of weather”. And if you can’t, remember we know where you live so can come complain. Hmm, knowing your online self as we do, that might just be an incentive, so forget I said it. 🙂
    Anything else you want to add will be gratefully appreciated. Your blog is a bright sparkle in the Internet ether and like the others I look forward to it very much.

  • Gracie

    Gordon,

    Many have already expressed my thoughts exactly. I am lucky to have discovered your site. I, too, google-earth your adventure locations with envy. I am inspired by your beautiful knitting – it’s very encouraging to follow a project. Keep going!

    Scotch eggs. I cooked in a pub/restaurant and the British owner insisted on shipping them from the UK for his plowman’s triple by-pass lunch. Very nice, but maybe twice a year. Pints all year, of course.

    Gracie

  • Gordon

    Hi Veronica and Gracie,

    Thank you for the kind words. Bob Dylan said once, when an interviewer asked him why he didn’t bring out as many albums as he used to, “sometimes you feel like you’ve written enough songs”. After 200 posts—and Margaret tells me we first started this blog back in 2004, though it obviously looked very different then—I sort of know what he means!

    I need to knit to help me relax and keep my hands busy; and if I can’t write I’m forced to realise how appalling television is nowadays (God help us when we run out of NCIS box sets). When I was writing for myself and only a few people logged in it was easy. But I’m aware how easy it would be to turn into a sort of pastiche/parody of myself, and that’s what worries me.

    No matter. So long as I have something to say, I’ll keep on saying it. That should get me to Christmas, anyway!

    Oh, and Scotch eggs—I used to like them, but I fear 30 years of vegetarianism mean I could never go back. (Pints, on the other hand…)

    Gordon

  • =Tamar

    “Gansey Nation”?

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