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North Sea 7: 15 – 21 October

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…


16 comments to North Sea 7: 15 – 21 October

  • Gracie


    Your gansey looks marvelous! The tight knitting sets off the pattern beautifully. You’re making great progress, so keep going of course.

    12 °C (53 °F) is none too shabby. About two weeks ago, we had our first frost, but we don’t have your wind. All the pumpkins and gourds froze on the vines.

    I love that castle. It’s simply mythic.

    Who did the painting on the cover of your book? I like it.


  • Gordon

    Hi Gracie,

    Yes, the frosts have started here too, and that, coupled with the dark mornings (and dark evenings) adds a gloomy touch to autumn, my favourite season. Well, that and the winds that hit with the force of a 747 preparing for takeoff.

    The cover is pretty splendid, isn’t it? It’s another of Margaret’s creations (like my other two), based on a photograph that’s been photoshopped within an inch of its life! It catches the feel of the book perfectly for me, the crow, the snow and the general lack of comfy-feeliness. One look at that cover and you know what you’re in for, I think.

    I’m working up a short story based on the castle now—if it comes together I’ll include it in my Christmas collection.


  • Gracie


    Yes, you are right about the cover – the crow, the coldness, none too comfy – I definitely get the feel for what’s ahead. Margaret is good. I like the others too. So, she’s your designer?

    Oooh – I’m not a successful reader, but I would definitely read a short story about that castle. Very cool. I can’t imagine living there – unless I wore a full, body-length gansey. Maybe two.


  • Lynne

    Great job on the cover, Margaret, it’s chilling and eerie, just like the book! With your lovely photos and descriptions, I wish you could travel the entire span of Great Britain to present a vast travelog along with your gansey blog, but, alas . . . .
    I did receive a large graphic file, e-mail forward, on the Isle of Sark this past week and it was beautiful and I saw more pictures of Sark than on Martin Clune’s mini-series on the “Isles of Britain”.
    The gansey is looking great with the ‘unveiling’ of the whole pattern for the body.

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Gansey looks like what I need right now. We’ve had an inch of snow and slippery streets today with another inch or two on the way. Won’t go above zero Celcius until the weekend… “Gordon – you don’t hire out your knitting talents do you?” she said pleadingly.

  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon, the gansey is coming along nicely, each of them has so many stitches at that tight gauge!
    How is your neck this week?
    The amazon 99 cent deal is maybe not raking in the dough for you, but it will keep you in gansey wool, yes?
    Take care.

  • Freyalyn

    I’m not putting a bag of frozen peas down my back for anyone…

  • Gordon

    Hello all, just a few random thoughts in my lunch break.

    Yes, Margaret is my designer (website, book covers). I usually have an idea what I want, but no idea how to achieve it, and then Margaret goes off and does her own thing (I’m still pretty sure she doesn’t read this, right?). As the end result is always better and way more professional than I could do myself I accept it with gratitude.

    Failing a publisher’s advance, or everyone clubbing together to pay our way, I’m afraid the travelogue will have to stay on the ideas board! But I have thought about it.

    The neck is better, thank you—still sore, especially at night, but it’s down to a dull ache rather than nerve-shredding agony, so I’m not complaining any more. Not sure if I’m making enough from my books yet to cover two gansey’s worth of yarn a year, but it’s early days. Ideally I’d like it to pay for a new iPad! And a Ferrari…

    Oh, and finally, it doesn’t have to be peas. Baby carrots would also be acceptable!


  • =Tamar

    Wouldn’t using baby carrots would be some sort of infant-veggie abuse? But anyway, there are no icy objects needed here to get that atmosphere.

  • Gracie

    Hello Lisa Mitchell,

    Where do you live that you’ve already had snow?


  • Gordon

    Just seen the weather forecast for Caithness—snow on Friday. It’s only October!

    And I can promise that no carrots were harmed in the making of this blog…


  • Lisa Mitchell

    Gracie – I’m in Calgary, Alberta, Canada – the land of chinooks. A few times this winter we’ll have warm winds that have potential to melt a foot of snow in a day and then turn around and dump several inches a day or two later. Oh – the joys of the great white north!

  • =Tamar

    Gosh, today’s header picture looks like… is that York cathedral?

  • Lynne

    Lisa – even Penticton in the sunny Okanagan has had a dusting of snow this week! I really shouldn’t complain after the gorgeous summer and fall, but my body ‘core’ isn’t aclimating very well!

  • Gracie

    Lisa, whoa , Calgary – New England’s got nothing on you. Next step to the Yukon in my mind. I applied to the Banff program, but back then I was considered too young. They were right. But, nothing like a good winter… with proper attire.

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