The world turns, as Michael Tippett so memorably said in his great oratorio A Child of Our Time, on its dark side. And this is certainly true in Caithness, where it’s dark, and cold, and wet. (On Saturday the Met Office forecast was for 9º, but “feels like 7º”.) Summer, which seems to have lasted from about 3.00pm to 4.30pm on August 17th, is well and truly over.
John O’Groats, in 35-mph gusts and horizontal rain, resembled nothing so much as the heaving deck of one of those Deadliest Catch fishing trawlers in a storm (Deadliest Groats, coming soon to a Discovery Channel near you). One by one cars would pull up. After a few minutes a couple would get out, run up to the famous signpost, stand hunched miserably in the rain for as long as it took to have their pictures taken, and then run back to their cars and drive away.
While there we met a very soggy Australian couple: he was in shorts, and she was just a voice of misery hidden under about seventeen layers of gore-tex. She looked around, taking it all in, and then said simply: “This a bad place. Let’s get back to the car.” And, I have to say, she had a point.
Well, and so to ganseys. Here at last is the big reveal, the pattern emerging from the plain knitting of the body like a newly-hatched chick from its shell. You won’t be able to see it properly for another week, of course, but there’s enough to get the idea. It consists of diamond panels alternating with betty martin and cables: it makes for a nicely chunky effect, quilted like Robin Hood’s archer’s jacket. I like it a lot, and it’s not surprising it’s been recorded more than once (there’s also a version from Whitby that has moss stitch diamonds instead).
It also has the advantage of being very regular, and thus easy to keep track of. Every two rows are identical, both for the diamonds and the betty martin, so you always know where you are—indeed, once you’ve laid the foundations, the pattern chart’s not necessary. I’m cabling every 7th row, though, so I do need to keep track of that.
Finally, on Saturday we dodged the showers and visited the wonderful Neolithic Camster Cairns, hunched and brooding on the secluded hillside. There were a few other visitors there, and some of them were getting down on hands and knees and crawling in for a look at the dark, enclosed interior chambers. As we left we heard one of them call out cheerfully to another of the party who’d just disappeared inside, “Look out! There’s a ghost in this one…!”