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Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 9 – 20 May

The gorse is out, which means it’s time to visit Helmsdale again. There’s a steep hill covered in bright yellow gorse rising high above the town and when, as now, the sun shines down from a brilliant blue sky, the sea glitters with reflected light and the gorse is full bloom, it’s as if God’s decided to paint the world in primary colours after a long, dreary, monochrome winter.

Helmsdale’s just over the border into Sutherland, some 35 miles south of Wick. It’s a lovely place, in the way that Wick, bless it’s dear old heart, really isn’t. It even used to have a castle, but—I believe the word I’m groping for here is “facepalm”—the remains were demolished in the 1970s to make way for a—sigh—bypass. Like so much of the Highlands, it’s a story of used-to-be’s. There used to be a crofting community in the uplands, but that went with the Clearances. There used to be a fishing industry, but that went with the fish. There even used to be a gold rush, when in 1869 some 600 prospectors descended on the hills up Kildonan Strath. Now there’s tourists, and gorse, and light: as brilliant as if the world were a vast cathedral and the sea and sky its stained-glass windows.

Old Bridge and Clocktower in Helmsdale

In gansey news the first Scarborough sleeve is almost finished, just the cuff to finish off. And I’ve laid the foundations of the Wick pattern, which I must say the Frangipani cornish fudge yarn shows off very clearly. Note the “print o’ the hoof” horseshoe cables, too: a bit of a bugger to knit, but a very effective detail. I’ll hopefully post the pattern charts next week.

View up the strath from the old bridge

Helmsdale was a Viking settlement back in the day (the name comes from Old Norse for “valley of the helmet”). One famous former resident was the 12th century Vikingess Frakkok, wife of Liot the Renegade. (I do love Viking nicknames: Eystein Foul-Fart and Kolbeinn Butter-Penis being the clear winners in a crowded field.) Well, the Orkneyinga Saga records that she helped her sister create a poison shirt sewn with gold intended for her nephew, Earl Paul. But Harald, her other nephew, saw it and was jealous, and insisted on having it. His mother and aunt explained “that if he put on the garment his life would be at risk”, but he put it on anyway, and “his flesh started to quiver and he began to suffer terrible agony”, until he took to his bed and died. The moral? Always listen to your mother, kids, especially—and I can’t stress this enough—if she’s a Viking.

6 comments to Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 9 – 20 May

  • meg macleod

    witty and beautiful post as aye…..

  • =Tamar

    Were they cousins, or was it a case of extreme sibling rivalry? There doesn’t seem to have been much to choose from between them. Or perhaps the shirt was intended for Harald in the first place and they trusted his jealousy to save Earl Paul.

    People whose business is to build roads never seem to question whether they are destroying the main reason tourists would want to drive to that area.

    A host of golden gorse… not quite the rhythm that daffodils gives, but just as pretty from a distance.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, they were brothers and for some reason their mother and aunt wanted to dispose of one for the other – maybe he never called her at Christmas, you never know.

      An early draft of Shakespeare’s Richard III has the line “Some gorse! Some gorse! My kingdom for some gorse!” Before common sense prevailed…

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for another great post, keeping me motivated by watching you at it!

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