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Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 11 – 3 June

Just when I think I have Caithness figured out, I always discover something new—an unexpected crink of coast, perhaps, or a hidden bay—and now, it turns out, a castle. I’m still taking this in: after living here for eight—count them, eight—years I’ve just come across an actual ruined castle I’d never heard of. The ruins are what’s left of Forse Castle, just 17 miles south of Wick. It’s another of those wonderful castles-perched-on-a-narrow-promontory-jutting-out-into-the-sea, with which Caithness abounds. It’s a mile or so off the main road, not signposted, and you’d never know it was there.

There’s not a lot of it left, to be honest—just part of the keep and a few crumbling walls. Nor does it have much of a recorded history: there’s been a castle there since 1200, apparently, but the current ruins date from the 14th/ 15th centuries. It was abandoned around 1660 in favour of a mansion house a few miles inland. (This probably wasn’t a tough decision: on the one hand, a cramped and exposed castlette; on the other, indoor plumbing.) But you’d surely miss that view—the wide glittering ocean, the broad sweep of bay and nothing between you and God’s heaven but a few vague streaks of cloud. 

The Castle and its pebble-shored bay

Well, in gansey news I’ve finished the Scarborough jumper, and it’s washed and blocked and drying in the patches of sunlight that glide across the living room floor. (For reasons I won’t go into here I set myself the target of using up my stash of one particular dye lot of Wendy navy this summer, three ganseys’ worth: that’s two down, one to go.) Now that the Scarborough is out the way, the Wick gansey’s going to take precedence for a while; at least until the complex yoke pattern is completed. I have a bunch of pattern charts to share with you, but I think I’ll leave them to next week when you should be able to see the completed back in all its glory.

Another view of the cove

Incidentally, when I was researching the castle I learned it originally had a “barmkin”.  This splendid Scots word was new to me. It means – not a diminutive simpleton, as I’d hoped, but a lowish wall enclosing a small castle or other fortified places. (Apparently there’s a hill fort in Aberdeenshire with the outstanding name of The Barmekin of Echt. Isn’t that great?) “Forse” itself is from Old Norse for a waterfall. I haven’t seen any sign of a waterfall round there yet; but this being Caithness I suspect it’s only a matter of time.

9 comments to Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 11 – 3 June

  • Melissa Simpson

    Congratulations on being on the blocking side of things with that handsome new sweater.
    I’d like to know about the wires – what do they do that patting it out to measurements on the pattern would not do? I can’t tell where they are placed. Please instruct us up here in Alaska where blocking usually entails wearing a new sweater out in the rain to bring in firewood. Thank you.

    • Margaret Reid

      Hi Melissa
      Gordon’s asked me to reply as I block the finished ganseys.
      Using wires (or a woolly board) places the garment under tension, which helps to even out the stitches and open up the patterning.
      Seven wires are used: two along the shoulders & down the sleeves, two along the bottoms of the sleeves, one at each side, and one just above the ribbing. The t-pins then hold the wires in place.
      Hope this answers your query!

  • I know we are told that forse or forss means waterfall but a Norwegian visitor said No that’s not true–means a stream with —hmm I think he said salmon in it. I did not check it out in Nicolaison place name book but it makes more sense to have a castle near a food-hunting source than a waterfall—don’t know another mystery/secret about this polyglot place to be teased apart. One of the treasures and challenges of this place is the several strands often get twisted into a single story. Much too complex for that.

  • =Tamar

    What a nice little sheltered-looking inlet for small boats, right next to the path up to the castle. I wonder if the tide rampages up it the way it does at the Bay of Fundy.

    I’ve decided I like the waist design on the Donald Murray gansey.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I think the tide rampages up most of the wee inlets along the coast here, from what I’ve seen! This one doesn’t seem to have been used as a harbour, making it practically unique in Caithness, I’d have thought.

      This sort of design flatters the willow-waisted among us, of course. Those of us whose figures resemble—in the immortal words of Stephen Fry—a bin liner filled with yoghurt, not so much…

  • Freyalyn Close-Hainsworth

    What interesting words. Of course, there are more than a few waterfalls in the Lake District and Northumberland that are called ‘Force’ – more strong Norse areas. And ‘barmekin’ – obviously cognate with a small ‘berm’ – which can mean a bank, a barrier, an area of boundary land. Fascinating…

    • Gordon

      Hi Freyalin, as you’ll have gathered, I do like words and derivations. There’s a farm near us called Quoybraes, and “quoy” is Old Norse for an enclosure, and “brae” is of course Scots for a hill, so it means the enclosure on the hill. When I lived in England i just took the names for granted—they were just what things were called. Nowadays I look at names on a map as another way of reading the landscape.

  • Falling Foss is a very pretty little waterfall near Whitby. In NZ the strip of grass outside your hedge but before the pavement is the berm.

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