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Robin Hood’s Bay Cardigan: Week 7 – 8 June

I am, it is probably fair to say, a creature of habit. Take my daily exercise: for the last eleven weeks, since lockdown began, every day at noon, come rain or shine, I’ve gone for a walk. How far? Just 2½ miles. It’s always the exact same route, although—just to show I’m not actually, you know, obsessive or anything—I sometimes do it in reverse order.

I start by following the main road into Wick old town. This takes me past the Market Square, where in 1859 the War of the Orange began, the Sabaid Mhòr or Great Fight of Wick, when a simple argument between two small boys over a piece of soft fruit developed into a full-scale, ugly riot between hundreds of locals and incomers, mostly Gaelic-speaking fishermen from Lewis down for the fishing season, which only ended after the army was called up from Aberdeen. Walking on I pass the Camps Bar—said to derive its name from the camp grounds of Cromwell’s soldiers after the English (*cough* started in Scotland *cough*) Civil War—and cross the river by the Service Bridge; and so on into Pulteneytown.

Yellow Flag Iris by the riverside path

Designed by Thomas Telford and built by the British Fisheries Society around the time Napoleon was meeting his Waterloo, Pulteneytown was conceived in the wake of the Highland Clearances to give dispossessed families a sporting chance of not starving to death by joining the burgeoning fishing industry. My walk takes me along the harbour, where one day in the 1870s so many herring were landed that the fisher lassies, or gutters, couldn’t process them all before night fell (sometime after 11.00pm), and the rest were left to rot on the quays. I pass the scene of the Grain Riots of 1847 (Ireland wasn’t the only country with a potato famine) and stroll on through Lower Pulteneytown, narrow streets of narrow houses where the working people lived.

And here let me pause a minute, partly so I can catch my breath before I slog up the brae to Upper Pulteneytown, but also to say again how much pleasure it gives me to live and work in an old fishing town, and to walk the streets wearing a gansey inspired by those once worn by the inhabitants a hundred years ago, and to knit them. And speaking of ganseys, I’ve finished the back on my current project and am now about halfway up the front; though the front will take a little longer because of the steek.

In parish news, Margaret has sent us photos of a completed Humber Star gansey. These patterns are always very striking, and many congratulations to Margaret for completing such an impressive project, and for sharing the photos with us.

Flowering Grasses by the path

And now here we are in Upper Pulteneytown, passing the larger properties where the merchants and traders lived, and crossing Argyll Square, originally an open space for fishermen to spread their nets out to dry, glistening in the old photographs like the giant cobwebs of Mirkwood; now a tree-shaded little park. Then I rejoin the main road and descend the hill, past the former library where I used to work—once so important to the town that half the population turned out for the opening in 1898; now a gloomy sort of place where you expect to see a sinister clown lurking in the shadows with a handful of balloons. I cross the road at the former Temperance Hotel, last reminder of the 25 years (1922-47) when Wick was an alcohol-free town.

Finally I saunter back along the south bank of the river, then trip-trap over the rickety-rackety footbridge, pausing only to pass the time of the day with the troll who lives underneath, now armed with a high-powered hunting rifle in case any stray billy goats should happen along, and up the path between the fields to find myself virtually at my doorstep.

How far? Just 2½ miles, by one measure; but by another, it’s more than several hundred years…

8 comments to Robin Hood’s Bay Cardigan: Week 7 – 8 June

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    Oh I so enjoyed your virtual walk–but what gansey were you wearing?

  • =Tamar

    Whooee. Wick really held onto that temperance act.

    It sounds like a lovely walk.

    One hopes the library will reawaken from its slumber eventually, refreshed and ready for activity (and not like a shambling undead thing). Libraries are living things; they take feeding.

    • Hi Tamar, yup, Wick held on to prohibition. Apparently there was a Saturday night bus service to Lybster, about 20 miles south, which still served alcohol, and the return journeys were said to get pretty wild… It finally broke down in World War 2, when you could get alcohol in the mess, but not in the pubs or hotels in town…

  • Jane Callaghan

    Hi, Is there any way to get in touch with you privately, Gordon? Not for any scandalous or nefarious reason, but because this is my own gansey and not connected, save peripherally i.e. it was all your fault, with your blog?

  • i enjoyed my walk with you on your daily meandering….also the complexity of the patterns in margarets work ..if only the world would take up knitting ..we would have peace….. concentration focussed on something really beautiful….xmegme

    • Hi Meg, and thanks. I think we all have a choice about what we want the sum of our lives to be: creation or destruction. (Or the middle way: picking up dropped stitches!)

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