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Scotland, Week 9: 9 October

No matter how thoroughly you’ve explored a place like Caithness there are always new things to discover. The other day I was talking to a visitor to the Archive about harbours and he said, “And have you been to the Bocht?” Well, not only had I not been to it, I’d never heard of it, nor did I even know how to spell it. But as he explained it’s a small abandoned harbour on St John’s Point, on the north coast between Mey and Gills Bay.

To get there you have to drive towards the hamlet of Skarfskerry, park the car by the side of the road and then cross a boggy waste of moorland. The land rises away from you, so it’s a bit of a trudge until you reach the crest and then the whole coastline eastwards as far as John O’Groats and Duncansby Head is suddenly revealed, with the islands of Stroma and Orkney tantalisingly close before you.

Caithness is, let’s face it, soggy. I’ve mentioned before how the ground underfoot feels like a carpet floating on a swimming pool; well, at St John’s Point it feels more like a tablecloth. Within a few paces I’d sunk to my calves, and a cold, brown, slimy liquid began to insinuate itself into my socks. (Hence the county’s tourism slogan: Caithness—putting the quag in mire for over 10,000 years.) We might’ve stayed dry if we’d worn deep-sea diving suits, but I doubt it.

The Bocht, one of those splendid Scottish names that sounds like a Highlander expectorating, is also known as Scotland’s Haven, and it’s quite beautiful, as though Caithness had its very own lagoon. You could imagine it as the headquarters of a James Bond supervillain, with the water sliding back to reveal a rocket launching pad underneath. In fact, as we looked some of the rocks along the sides of the bay seemed disconcertingly to move, until we realised they were basking seals. At such moments time and space cease to apply and all you can do is stand and stare in a dazed sort of wonder. It’s almost—almost—enough to make you forget that your trousers are experiencing a sort of capillary motion and icy peat water is now being transferred up from your socks to your groin in a way that is frankly disturbing.

It’s been a slightly curtailed knitting week, so not a huge amount of progress on the gansey, as we’re off down to visit my family in Northamptonshire again. The good news is, I’ve taken the gansey with me and expect to get it finished in the next few days; the bad news: there won’t be a blog next week. So: happy knitting everyone, and we’ll see you when we get back.

Scotland’s Haven

Gansey Nation will return on Monday 23 October.

15 comments to Scotland, Week 9: 9 October

  • =Tamar

    Oooh. A hidden treasure that is the lagoon itself, only metaphorically buried.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I think there used to be a pot of gold hidden there but the seals took it and used it to buy deck chairs and mobile phones. Now they just sit around texting the whole time and taking “sealphies” as they call it…

  • Lois

    Enjoy your holiday and take care of that eye!

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    When you know who was persuading me to make a life here, he took me to Scotland’s Haven. For many years afterwards he has been saying not sure whether it was him or Scotland I fell in love with. I watched the seals at play there.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, you make him sound like He Who Must Not Be Named in the Harry Potter books! But I can’t think of a better gift to someone than Scotland’s Haven, it’s all part of the package: and everyone falls in love with Scotland in the end.

      • =Tamar

        An earlier “must not be named” was Chrestomanci (read Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones), because if you say his name three times, he is summoned.

        “Sealphies.” I see what you did. (Fursooth!)

  • Jane

    Caithness is a truely remarkable place. Happy travels and take care!

    • Gordon

      Caithness really is special. Orkney gets all the best press and the west coast gets the tourists, but Caithness is a hidden gem. And while I wish it was better appreciated, part of me prefers it this way. It doesn’t give up its secrets too quickly – you have to wine and dine the old girl a little first!

  • Ellen R.

    Greetings from Indiana. I love your blog and thank you so much for your blogging and knitting efforts!

    It amazes me how you manage to combine knitting, history, travel, and photography.

    All the best, Ellen R.

    • Gordon

      Hello Ellen, and thank you! It’s always nice to know that the blog is being read and enjoyed. I decided a long time back that I’d let it reflect my own interests, wherever they happen to lead me. But through it all the one constant has been the ganseys, which are my anchor and stop me slipping my cable and running into deep waters. Plus Margaret takes the photos! The whole hopefully being greater than the sum of our parts…

  • Lois

    I hear there’s a bit of a blow headed your way. Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, luckily for us, though not for those away down south, Storm Brian (my middle name, as it happens) hasn’t given us more than a lot of rain and a bit of wind. This year England and Wales have been copping the worst of the bad weather, and the far north’s got off relatively lightly. (I hope it’s not too selfish of me to hope this continues…?)

  • Dave

    Looks like a great spot. I guess it’s the source of inspiration for William Connolly’s great masterpiece “if it was nae for your wellies…”. Nice bit of writing – hope everything is well in Northants.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, ah, the classics. How did it go again?

      If you’re out for a ramble,
      Or off on a tramp,
      If it was nae for your wellies
      Your toes would get damp…”

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