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Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 9 – 23 September

What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot, it appears. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as Juliet so shrewdly soliloquised; but I for one might feel differently about it, if its Latin name was, say, Stinkpukia Arsgravia, or some such. Which brings to me to something that I’ve been mulling over recently. Not far from my parents’ house in the Midlands is a village called Badby; and not far from where we live now is an abandoned village by the name of Badbea. To the unwary, the names look similar—but they couldn’t be more different.

Badby Woods

Badby is set in the lush Northamptonshire countryside, all green fields and rolling parklands, each village seemingly crammed with manor houses and medieval churches—the kind of place where you turn a corner and expect to run into a Cavalier exercising his dogs or a Roundhead in search of a more severe haircut. Indeed, when I grew up there local people still peppered their conversations with “Zounds!”, “‘sblood!” and “Stap my vitals!”; though now I think about it that may just’ve been the school I went to. The name Badby translates as “Badda’s Settlement” (the -by suffix is from Old Norse, showing that later on it fell under the rule of the Danes after the Viking invasions).

The gansey gets an outing – Badbea monument in background

Whereas Badbea in Caithness derives from the Gaelic for a thicket of birch trees (bhaid beithe), though there are precious few trees to be seen there now. The emphasis comes on the second syllable, which takes a bit of getting used to (it’s pronounced “bad-bay”). It occupies a narrow, windswept, barren strip of land between the A9 and the cliffs which drop sheer down to the sea. Badbea was settled c.1800 by crofting families driven out of the fertile valleys further south and west, as part of the infamous Highland Clearances, where people were evicted to make way for more profitable sheep farming. History is like a series of overlapping tiles: it’s worth remembering that places like Wick harbour were built to provide employment for the hundreds of people left destitute by the Clearances. But where, one asks, are the sheep and the fish and the people now? (“Ou sont les moutons d’antan” as the poet said.)

Meanwhile, in gansey news I’m cheating slightly this week: I actually finished this jumper last week, but I’m so pleased with it I’ve decided to give it an encore, and feature it washed and blocked and in its final state. I have of course started another project, but in a transparent attempt to build suspense and heighten curiosity, I’m holding it back till next time. Be still, my beating heart. Well, maybe not that still. Stillish, perhaps.)

Badbea boundary wall

I’ll say more about Badbea next time. We visited Badby and its celebrated woods (an ancient plantation, established as a deer park by Henry III back in 1246) when we were down recently, and I can thoroughly recommend it for a walk. You may encounter locals blackberrying, or sheep, as did we—each species deploying the celebrated “you bain’t from round ‘ere” stare, the kind that makes one feel as though they’re calculating the value of your internal organs on the Daventry black market—but never mind. It’s full of what I suspect may very well be trees (nature was never my strong suit), even if there aren’t any roses. However they’re called.

6 comments to Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 9 – 23 September

  • Jules

    Very handsome gansey. I see you have knitted the cuffs so that they can be turned back. Is this traditional or something you just like to do for yourself? What is the purpose of turned back cuffs? Decorative? I thought perhaps it was to allow for ‘growing room’ – though, respectfully, I suspect you’re not going to grow much more!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jules, and thank you. I favour long cuffs, especially for other people, so they can adjust the length to suit. (Ione if my arms is slightly longer than the other, e.g.) Sometimes ganseys with cables can pull in a bit after blocking too which can affect the length of sleeves. It’s not very traditional, but I also think it can look good as well!

  • lovely gansey in Badbea.. a truly haunted place..x

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, it’s impossible to stand there and not feel history breathing down your neck, isn’t it? Even on a sunny afternoon it felt pretty bleak!

  • =Tamar

    I’ve tried to train myself to say ‘Be steady’ or ‘healthy regular rhythm’, having had similar thoughts. It’s odd how many people seem not to think about the words they use.

    The gansey is subtle and handsome.

    Northamptonshire vs Caithness… I suspect I know which area I’d choose based on weather, but local culture does have something to do with it. I might get along better in Caithness, but then I do have some Scots ancestry.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, words are rather my business, but I am as guilty of as anyone of being loose with language. I tend to see words as opportunities rather than chess pieces that you move according to the rules of the game.

      I love Northants, it’s a green and pleasant land and I’ve Morris danced on many of its village greens. It has some lovely pubs too. Caithness is wild and rugged and has an untamed sort of beauty. I’m lucky to spend my life flitting between the two!

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