Some parts of the world at this time of year enjoy an indian summer, a few weeks of warm, bright, summer-like weather. Caithness has just enjoyed an indian weekend—well, more of an indian Sunday, actually—in which the temperature soared to a giddy 12 degrees and the wind dropped to what was almost a gentle breeze. (Warm enough to shed at least one layer of thermal long johns—maybe even two.)
So we went to the castle of Old Wick, just a mile or so south of the town. You drive along the narrow clifftop road, but have to leave the car about 800 yards distant and walk the rest of the way across waterlogged fields (imagine the Dead Marshes in the Lord of the Rings, but instead of walking over the bodies of fallen warriors from bygone wars, here you have cowpats).
I’d seen pictures of the castle remains—just a ruined square tower, jutting up like a broken tooth, not very impressive—but I wasn’t prepared for the location. That part of the coast consists of a series of narrow inlets (or “goes” as they’re called up here, as in Whaligoe), and in between each is a narrow, sheer-sided promontory of rock jutting out into the ocean. Wick castle is perched on one of those promontories. (Lie your hand flat, palm-down on the table; now splay your fingers—the castle lies on your middle finger, and all the space from your first knuckle to the tip of your fingernail was taken up with buildings, a courtyard and a keep.) It’s really stunning.
It’s very old—one of the oldest in Scotland, dating back to the 1100s. Standing there, looking out over the limitless, empty ocean, waves breaking on the rocks far below like spouting whales, it’s hard not to imagine what it must have been like for the men and women who lived there on the edge of the world almost a thousand years ago. And I can’t help wondering how many men they lost in the early morning darkness as they stumbled out of bed and went to relieve themselves over the cliff edge—a fumble of clothing, a bleary misjudgement, a missed step and a long, fading, plummeting scream… (This, of course, is the reason indoor plumbing was invented.)
Another milestone on the gansey as I’ve finished the second diamond, and my zig, having zagged, is now starting to zig again (following the pattern as it moves up the body is a bit like watching a 1980s pingpong video game). I shall probably end up with four diamonds comprising my body pattern, but we’ll have to see. The pattern is starting to show up properly, now you can see the repeats. And it’s getting too tall to support its own weight, but quivers unsteadily like a fat man balancing on a chair to change a lightbulb.
Finally, a note to say that I’m publishing my third novel on Amazon kindle this week, the first part of my Welsh fantasy trilogy, The Wraiths of Elfael (which some of you may have already read when I offered it as a free download a year or so ago). It will retail for the exorbitant sum of 99 cents, but if you wait till next week it’ll be available on a free promotion from Amazon from 29-31 October.
It’s a snowbound, frozen chiller of a book set around Christmastime, which is why I thought I’d publish it now—except, of course, we’re enjoying this mild autumnal weather right now, which rather spoils the effect. So, if you do decide to read it, I suggest you take a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and stick it down the back of your neck to get you in the proper mood…