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Scarborough: 11 September

sc160912-1Less than ten miles south of Wick lies the extraordinary archaeological landscape of Yarrows, a flattish, undulating, mostly empty moorland covering several square miles of geography and some seven thousand years of history. (Yes, it’s time for another instalment in our occasional series, “A Bunch of Stones Lying in a Field”.)


The broch & Loch Yarrows

People have been living here since the Stone Age, c.5,000 BC, and there are cairns and hut circles and even a standing stone, a narrow blade that sticks up like the gnomon on a sundial. On Saturday we just went down to Loch Yarrows to look at the wonderfully atmospheric Iron Age broch overlooking the loch.

This was our second visit. The first time we were defeated by the world’s most spectacularly useless information board: a study in abstract art, it depicts the trail without reference to actual landmarks, or even what you might expect to see. (It’s probably a hangover from the war, when it was originally put up to obfuscate invading Nazi archaeologists.)



The way to the broch lies across several fields occupied by a stud farm, where ponies cluster as thick as midges; they have a strategy based on Jurassic Park’s velociraptors where one distracts you to the front, and while you stroke its forehead another two go through your pockets looking for apples, or failing that your wallet.


Abandoned buildings, Loch Brickigoe

It’s a stunning location, desolate and wild, and so flat you can see across Loch Yarrows, over Loch Hempriggs, and all the way to the sea beyond. The broch is ruined now, little more than foundations and an overgrown mound of stone. You have to watch your step, too—I mistook a grass-covered watery ditch for solid ground and next thing I knew I was about three feet shorter, with a cold, wet sensation spreading upwards from the region of my socks.


Riverside path at sunset, Wick

And the Scarborough gansey is finished, my fifth completed this year, with just the washing and blocking to go. I’m particularly pleased with the sleeves (18.5 inches plus 3-inch cuffs of 84 stitches), which seem to be a good fit around the forearms and wrists. It’s interesting that there are so few gansey patterns like this where the yoke isn’t divided horizontally or vertically into panels or bands. I wonder why that is? It’s certainly very effective.

As for the broch, it’s strange to think that people were living there when Jesus was alive. They don’t seem to have been knitting, though: I always tend to think of knitting as something that must have started about the time the first humans wondered what to do with all the leftover bits from mutton, but apparently not. Knitting as we know it dates from several centuries later, which raises the question: what did on earth they do in the long Caithness winter evenings?

23 comments to Scarborough: 11 September

  • lorraine

    Gordon- Another success. The Gansey is wonderful and looks to be quite wearable. What more could you want?

    Brochs are fascinating. You do live in an interesting part of the world. Does Margaret like exploring as much as you do?

    • Gordon

      Hi Lorraine, and thank you. Yes, Caithness has history and archaeology literally lying all over the place—maybe that’s because we’ve never had the sort of population and industrial building that’s erased so much of Britain’s past under housing and industrial estates, and motorways. (Not that I’d say no to a motorway connecting Wick with, say, Edinburgh… Or even Northampton!)

  • Annie

    I’ll look up ‘broch’ but this was a lovely posting to read, thanks. And, yes, another success, and a pattern for me, I think. Your next?

    • Gordon

      Sorry, Annie—a broch is an ancient type of building unique to the north of Scotland. They were made of stone, and were circular, usually with an inner and an outer wall, about two storeys high, like an Iron Age cooling or ventilation tower. What were they for? Probably a combination of defensive forts and, as someone put it, “Iron Age stately homes”. Caithness has the remains of almost 300 brochs, though they’re pretty much all ruins like this one. They are fascinating things, not least because so much about them is unknown. (I’m a big fan of ignorance—indeed, for me it’s something of a way of life these days…)

      Next week, revisiting an old favourite!

  • Sharon in Surrey

    I love the green sweater!!! Hope to see it ON your back sometime soon. It’s a wonderful color & an interesting pattern even though it’s ‘plainer’ than most of the other ones you knit. Good job. I saw a ‘special’ on the tube about your brochs which showed special sleeping niches, a hearth & what they thought were ‘storage’ areas all built into the stone walls.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, yes, hopefully the gansey will be taken for a test drive over the weekend, with pictures to follow. Somewhat to my own surprise, I find I love these simple patterns every bit as much as the really fancy ones. Though I must admit, after two relatively plain ganseys, I’m starting to feel cable withdrawal symptoms!

      Although the wood doesn’t survive, broths probably had wooden roofs, and ceilings dividing the floors (like modern houses). I like the idea that they had little “guard” chambers just inside the entrance, though given that they’re usually the size of the average dog kennel I always think of Tolkien’s dwarves for some reason… All the display boards show fish being hung in the rafters to smoke, too, which makes sense, as they could enjoy a nice kipper for breakfast to go with their morning gruel.

  • Julie

    Handsome sweater, Gordon, and in such a rich colour. Add a red red tam and you’re set for Christmas!
    Lovely work as always.
    Victoria, BC

    • Gordon

      Thanks, Julie. Though I rather avoid the red tam o’shanter these days, as last Christmas i went out in a green sweater and was mobbed by an aggressive flock of robins who mistook me for a holly bush…

  • Judit M/Finland

    “It’s interesting that there are so few gansey patterns like this where the yoke isn’t divided horizontally or vertically into panels or bands. I wonder why that is? It’s certainly very effective.”

    Gordon, I think less is more- even in this case of the new green gansey. I love the pattern and the color.
    Congrats !

    • Gordon

      Hello Judit, yes, and I thought of the Norfolk patterns you’ve knit so many fine examples of when I wrote that: probably Norfolk has more undivided patterns than any other part of Britain, and unique ones at that. I wonder why that was? Certainly the Scottish fisher folk travelled down as far as Yarmouth and Lowestoft, so there was plenty of opportunity for the patterns to get shared about.

  • Lois

    A lovely colour and a most effective yoke pattern. You must have been mumbling “knit two, purl two” in your sleep after that moss stitch marathon.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, while there were times when i felt my fingers settling into a sort of claw, I actually found the endless repetition very soothing overall—and it was very nice not having to count rows for cabling, or concentrate on complicated pattern combinations. So, you’re right, it’s not somethingI’d want to do every week, but it made for a nice change! And it’s very effective when you see it from a few paces back, rather from a few inches away at the end of a needle…

      • Julie

        Hi Gordon and other cablers,
        Recently I found an article which has made my knitting life SO MUCH easier. Perhaps I am late to the party.

        Go to:

        Scroll down to “Working with Cable and the Cable Knit Pattern, paragraph 2. The photo says it all.
        Hope this helps.

        • Gordon

          Hi Julie, many thanks for that. It’s so clear I think even I could understand it!

          Though if I make a mistake more than one row back I must confess I do rather call on “tech support” for help…

          • Lois

            I must confess that I am rather familiar with ravelling back cables. Groan! But if I don’t fix the mistake, it will annoy me forever more. I just pray that I notice it before I have knitted up to the top of the sweater.

  • Jane

    Wonderful work and many congratulations, a very good looking garment. I too am a fan of moss stitch, as I think the great Gladys Thompson was. For me, it occupies a funny sort of no mans land between the knitted and the woven with its tweedy texture and firmness. Very, very nice and a super colour. Something tells me you could well have the next one underway!

    We don’t have your archaeological heritage in the South, we got the motorways and housing estates instead. You do live in a magnificent place!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, yeah but you’ve got Stonehenge in southern England, which does tend to suck up all the prehistoric world’s attention like an archaeological black hole! (And yes, the north Highlands are very cool.) 🙂

      I agree with you (and Gladys) about moss stitch. And I still marvel at what can be achieved just with knit and purl stitches. It’s almost infinite in its variety. (I’ve said before, it’s the knitting equivalent of binary code, which can describe the entire universe with just 1s and 0s.)

      I have a short list of some of my favourite patterns I’ve knitted down the years and given away which I plan to work through over the next year or so, along with some new patterns to try, as I enter the twilight of my gansey knitting career. And yes, I have just cast on for the next one (yesterday)!

  • Song

    I don’t see why you had any trouble at all with that map.

    It clearly states where you are, and gives you several options of Things To View. There were bones along the left path (left as we’re looking at the map) and then you can marvel at the alien Tripod (obviously a remnant left over from this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tripods).

    Then, at the return point, you can view a domed jelly and another bone (to explain what jellies are made of).

    Finally, on the right, there’s a nice depiction of the Triple Spinning Dervishes in their Glass Tube, and the last thing you see is the pleasant Snake’s Walk, a common variant of the labyrinth found in many places of meditation.

    I have no idea why you found that complicated! *grin*

    • Gordon

      Hi Song, it’s a little-known fact that the Martians landed in Caithness first but discovered it was just barren and empty and decided to conquer Alpha Centauri instead. (This sounds like a feeble joke, and of course it is, but then again the first bomb to land on mainland Britain in WW2 fell in Caithness… but nobody noticed for several days as it landed in remote farmland!)

      Of course, as with so many ancient rites, the trail is not so much a physical path to walk, as an inner spiritual journey. In following the trail you follow your own path to inner enlightenment.

      OK, let’s be honest: I’m just disappointed I couldn’t find the jelly!

  • =Tamar

    I admire your description of the “useless information board: a study in abstract art, it depicts the trail without reference to actual landmarks, or even what you might expect to see.” That is also a precise description of the “you are here” maps in the conference building I spent most of a week getting lost in during August. Obviously they hired the same designer.

    Before knitting, there was nalbinding of various sorts, also known as “getting the yarn so tangled it becomes a kind of fabric”. Proof that they had cats, possibly?

    • Gordon

      Hello Tamar, you have my sympathy!

      In the very first Jason Bourne movie there’s a scene in the American Embassy where the alarm sounds, and amid the chaos he plucks a fire escape map off the wall and uses it to evade capture and navigate his way out of the building. In the real world he spends five minutes staring at the map in incomprehension, muttering, “What the f—?”and is promptly arrested by armed soldiers.

  • Pam

    Lovely Scarborough!
    I knitted one too this year. When I saw the “chevron” that had developed when I started the yoke, I thought I had made a mistake and almost ripped it back. However, I persevered and realised it had probably been caused by all those stitches having been bunched on one needle. Some serious blocking removed it and it looks perfect. Now I use green garden wire instead of manufactured stitch holders or spare knitting needles. Works a treat!

    • Gordon

      Hi Pam, and thank you. It’s a great pattern isn’t it? I get annoyed when I read that it makes good “beginners’ pattern”—it makes a good pattern for anyone!

      Blocking cures almost all ills known to man, I find—uneven stitches become even, size magically adjusts itself and, as you say, unwanted chevrons disappear…

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