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Seed Panel Gansey: Week 4 – 16 November

It wasn’t raining, so we decided to visit another Caithness broch, the splendidly-named Thing’s Va near Thurso. To reach it you park in a lay-by on the main road, take a dirt track up Hill of Forss and then cross some fields; it is, one website boasted cheerfully, just a mile from the road. Being young and innocent, it never occurred to me to consider how much heavy lifting the word “just” was doing in that sentence. Well, I would learn.

At first all was well. We found the lay-by and parked, and started up the hill. Now, I don’t know what the words “dirt track” mean to you; I had images of the sort of road the Dukes of Hazard would go bombing down in the General Lee, trailing clouds of dust and whooping in boyish enthusiasm. This was more of a mudslide. We did not whoop. Eventually we saw the unmistakable lumped silhouette of the broch on our left, perhaps a quarter of a mile distant. There were no signs, but we found an open gate into the field.

Broch remains with Thurso, Dunnet Head, and Orkney in the distance

The field turned out to be waterlogged and within a few yards the path had become a drainage ditch, the first of many. We doggedly kept on, hopping from tussock to tussock like a crazy game of hopscotch through a minefield. Finally we reached a line of gorse, beyond which the broch lay tantalisingly close. In front of the gorse was a ditch with a stream running through it. Somehow we scrambled across and up the other side—and ran into a barbed wire fence which had been concealed by the gorse. There were no gaps or gates, so I laid my coat on the barbs and we climbed over. Finally! We had reached the broch and the end of our tether simultaneously. It’s a stunning location, with broad views of the sea from Dounreay to Dunnet Head. There’s not much left of the broch, but you can clearly make out the walls. The name is interesting: a thing was the Old Norse word for an assembly, and there’s a theory that this was where the Caithness Vikings held their equivalent of a parliament (hence my new line of tea towels with the slogan, Democracy: it’s a Thing). Good luck getting your longboats up here, lads, I thought.

And while we pause at the summit to catch our breath, Nigel has sent me photos of a cracking blue gansey he’s made. It is, by a happy coincidence, the same pattern as the one I’m currently knitting. I do like these geometric patterns, they’re so elegant, as Nigel’s demonstrates. Many congratulations to Nigel, a fellow traveller since the early days of this blog, and I’m sure you’ll agree he wears it well.

My own gansey is coming on: I’ve finished the half-gussets and started on the back. As I said the other day, I’m adding cables to prevent “yoke creep”, and you’ll note that the first section of purl dividers runs across the whole length of the yoke; the others will only go as far as the cables. My only tip is to arrange the division of front and back so that every row you knit with the front facing is a plain knit row, and all the alternating (pattern) rows are knit with the back facing.

Fishing boats in the harbour

As we stood atop the broch we noticed a footbridge on the north side, crossing the stream. Aha, we thought, that must be the way to go. Alas, it proved—like so many things in this material world—an illusion, leading us into several emphatically-ploughed fields. In five minutes we had so much mud clagging our boots we were reduced to lurching, like a pair of Frankenstein’s monsters newly-arisen from the slab. After a time—it might have been minutes, it might have been days, I rather lost track—we emerged back onto the road. We checked our phones: sure enough, the distance from the broch really was just over a mile. “Just”, I thought grimly; yeah, right…

8 comments to Seed Panel Gansey: Week 4 – 16 November

  • =Tamar

    That reminds me of a person who shall be unnamed whose catch phrase on leaving an unfinished project is “All you got to do is…”
    Yeah. “All”.

    At least you did get to the broch and there was some of it left to see! It’s news to me that there were Things outside Iceland, so now I’ve learned something.

    The gansey is very handsome.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, it was worth it. Probably. There’s a place called Tingwall in Orkney which comes from the same word, and it was the site of a broch too!

  • Dave

    I was wondering if it were called ‘things VA’ as it were being considered for a London museum until you set me straight. It might have been easier to visit. Have you considered saving such visits for summertime…

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, yes, bit of a schoolboy error there. My only mistake was not leaving it till summer, spreading the trip over several days, hiring a team of Sherpas, yoking a dog sled and getting helicoptered in! Other than that I was fine…

  • Judit M./Finland

    Hello Gordon ! I love this pattern as it is easy and still very attractive. Do you have enough light ? It´s difficult to knit using a dark color this time of the year . Take care ! Happy knitting.

    • Gordon

      Haha, yes, not one of my best ideas to knit this in the depths of winter, was it? Basically it’s fine… unless I make a mistake, when it does feel like a blind man looking for a black cat in a coal cellar at midnight!

  • Meg Macleod

    dear gordon.over the years i have pondered that sign post for the broch…im glad my curiosity remained quietly swithering…..i rather think i might have succumbed to the bog to rise again in afew hundred years..thankyou for sharing this adventure..and the view …xxmeg

    • Gordon

      Hello Meg, next time I go in search of a broch that’s a little off the beaten track, especially if I’m following directions from the website, I shall take care to set my affairs in order and make my will before I start… If I am ever tempted to try again, I’ll wait till the next time there’s a drought!

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