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Week X+10

This week we did something we’ve been meaning to do for some time, and paid a visit to the Anstruther Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. It was a beautiful day (i.e., the one day of the week when it wasn’t raining), perfect for a trip up the Fife coast.

So off we drove. Anstruther is about an hour and a half north of Edinburgh, over the Forth bridge, and it’s a very pleasant drive, meandering up the coast road. (Of course, you have to be strong and not get sidetracked by the advertisements to go see Scotland’s Secret Bunker and the enticingly named Kingdom of Fun along the way, which requires some willpower.)

I’ve had a bit of a thing for east coast fishing towns and villages ever since we lived in Lowestoft, and Anstruther is definitely up there. The seafront has lots of restaurants and fish and chip shops, there are quaint back alleys and wynds, and you can walk out along the harbour to the lighthouse, and get a good view of the sea. Of course, there must be a reason why they need a sea wall over six feet high, but I haven’t been able to work it out yet…

I hate to say it, but we were a little bit disappointed by the museum. Just a bit. Of course, my main interest is ganseys, and I accept that’s not the typical reason for visiting; but despite housing the Moray Ganseys Project temporary exhibition, they didn’t really have much interesting knitwear on display. A couple of the dummies were wearing ganseys, but these were hidden under waistcoats or oilskins; and they had a small glass case dedicated to fishermen’s knitting, but the lights weren’t on in that gallery, and it was impossible to see any detail.

The museum itself is interesting, much larger than it looks from the outside, consisting of several buildings knocked together, and you can tour galleries ranging from the age of sail to the introduction of steam, view a recreated fisherman’s cottage, and walk round the hulk of a real fishing boat, or watch someone working on a sail boat.

So why weren’t we more impressed? I suppose it’s because, although each item was displayed and labelled, it didn’t really add up to a coherent narrative. There wasn’t a “wow” factor, nothing to make you stop and think, no real human interest. (Actually, that’s not fair – they have a very effective room like a chapel, with plaques to fishermen lost at sea on the walls.) But I was hoping for more than a bunch of fishing-related stuff in glass cases and some of the world’s least convincing dummies. Hopefully when I go again it will click.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s well worth a visit, though I’d recommend going in summer since they don’t appear to heat the galleries in winter, or turn on all the lights for the displays. (I still plan to donate a couple of my ganseys to them one day, if they’re interested.) And I can recommend the museum cafeteria unreservedly. Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks might have had reservations about their coffee, but not about the coffee cake.

The trip was by way of a celebration, as I’ve finally finished the gansey. I slogged my way down the cuff with all the enthusiasm of the Allies fighting their way up Italy in World War 2, with similarly happy results, though it felt like it took as long in the end. Speaking of ends, I darned them in last night, so all we have to do now is wash it and block it and then feed it to the moths. So the cycle of life continues.

This week’s bread is a sourdough rye bread. Closer textured than normal bread (rye hasn’t got any gluten, or something), I’m not sure how much of the final density is due to my inexperience or if it’s supposed to be that way. I decided to move it off the counter when it started attracting a garlic press and a couple of spoons into close orbit around it…

11 comments to Week X+10

  • Suzanne

    Lack of engaging cohesiveness seems a common undercurrent in the matter of maritime museums. The one in Santa Barbara is similarly ho-hum; and I cannot actually recall having been in one that really grabbed me. Not in Monterey, Bath (ME), Boston, Newport, or any other port with a history that should have been exciting to discover. Perhaps it is just me…

    Well done on completing the gansey! It looks really nice. Elegant simplicity personified – which is infinitely more wearable than some of the really spectacular complex cabled designs; not to mention lighter.

  • Gordon


    Part of my trouble is, I spent 3 years working for the SW Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, going round museums and helping them to do things better, so I have seen some very good examples! (The best is the enemy of the good, as they say.) I quite liked the New Bedford whaling museum, but I had a sort of Moby Dick thing going on at the time, so my judgement may not be altogether reliable in that case…


  • Honor

    I like the Anstruther Museum generally but I agree fully about the lack of ganseys. I had high hopes of the Extravagansey exhibition but was disappointed that it only included one (rather plain) Anstruther gansey. I know they have other ganseys in storage because Liz Lovick has researched them. I thought they might have taken the opportunity to put some of their own ganseys on show. Maybe if enough people contacted them to say they were interested, they might put some local ganseys on display??

  • =Tamar

    A very handsome gansey indeed!
    I’m impressed by any bread success.
    I used to try to bake bread. The sourdough was
    always very heavy. I think it got bored waiting
    for me to remember to do something with it.

  • =Tamar

    P.S. I suppose museums are a bit like books. I’ll buy a book if it has one picture or half a line about something I’m interested in and can’t find that bit elsewhere, but it’s nice if there’s more, and some organization to make it easier to find. But not even turning on the lights when they knew you were there is very sad.

  • Gordon

    Hi Honor,

    One of the disappointments about the ganseys exhibition is that most of it seemed to be modern “samples” on those little dummies suspended from the ceiling, or printed patterns for knitwear on the walls. But I don’t mean to criticise the museum – I appreciate my interest is a bit specialised! It just seemed like an opportunity missed somehow.

    Next time I will write ahead and see if I can make an appointment to see what they’ve got in stock. But maybe if they had more local examples it might encourage more people locally to give it a go?


  • Gordon

    Hello Tamar,

    Thank you!

    I still don’t think I’ve got the sourdough right yet. If I don’t spike it with some commercial yeast it tends to be very heavy, and very dense at the bottom, with a few cavernous holes through the middle. I haven’t given up yet, though, and am going to try again this weekend and (a) give it longer to rise – 4 hours instead of 3 – and (b) get the oven hotter, so it gets a good blast when it goes in. If that doesn’t work I may have to think again, mind. But 3-4 hours to ferment, and 3-4 hours to rise is quite a commitment just for a loaf of bread…

    As we were walking round the museum – it’s a big place, several houses knocked together – we heard someone, presumably the curator, stomping round, cursing under his breath (“bloody thing!”), and switching on the lights as he went. So they may have a problem with the lights going off. (He gave us a big smile and a cheerful hello when he saw us there, I don’t mean to imply he wasn’t friendly. The staff were all very welcoming, from reception to the cafe.) But the visitors comments book in the gansey exhibition had a number of comments lamenting the fact that it was too dark to see properly, so it wasn’t just us!

    I like your museums-books analogy. I think museums should inspire you to be interested, not just say, if you’re interested, here we are (that’s archives…!)


  • Leigh

    It seems yall’s museums have a derth of gansey samples. Ganseys seem to be making a big comeback and desire to see samples up close and personal is very real.

    I think this calls for a national get-out-the-needles-and-knit-gansey movement. Although, I am across the pond, I would consider donating! Now if I can just finish my other projects so I can start on one.

  • Gordon

    Hi Leigh,

    Maybe they wanted to clear the decks for the Moray Gansey Project exhibition, or maybe they can’t put the ganseys on display and trust people not to manhandle them in unsupervised galleries?

    Anyway, the world can never have too many ganseys. Aux aiguilles a tricoter, citoyens!


  • Nigel

    When I visited they had folk singing, sea shanties, and lots of interesting things. However, it was during Fife Arts week, so it was a special effort.
    I too was disappointed by the lack of Ganseys. However, people were being encouraged to dress up in traditional costumes. I saw a perfectly fine Gansey, discarded, lying on the floor. I alerted staff. I was so tempted to put it on and walk out the door.
    PS: I have been in Scotland longer than Gordon and I find the weather is ok, not always great, but ok. I grew up on the Pennines, were it seemed to rain all the time. It rains less far less in this part of eastern Scotland, which means good weather to me.
    PPS: Love the Gansey.

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel – I wasn’t having a go at Scottish weather – honest! (Remember, I’ve lived in Wales and the south west of England, not to mention Manchester, so I know that of which I speak.) It just happened to be a week when four of the five days were pouring with rain, wild, wet and windy, and in the middle there was this amazingly stunning day, blue skies, sunshine, light wind, gorgeous. And I agree – this part of Scotland is in its own micro climate, the bad weather often seems to split north and south of here – fine by me.

    Fife Arts Week sounds fun – but given the way local Councils are cutting their arts funding in the current climate (did you see Somerset, my old county, just voted to cut arts funding by 100%?!) I wonder how long it will continue.

    And on that happy note…