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Wick (Cordova): Week 8 – 17 May

Spring has come to Caithness; at least I assume it’s spring because it’s not snowing. The sky is already bluer, the grass is grassier, and the air is filled with the cries of (*checks ornithological encyclopaedia*) birds, and the meadows abound with what I can only assume must be flowers. It certainly feels like spring, and in token of this I’ve started taking my daily walks up the river. Away from the harbour, where the current gets as lively as it’s going to get, i.e., not very, Wick River is a quiet, meandering waterway, the main channel spreading into broad, shallow wetlands. There are reed beds teeming with ducks and, this being the breeding season, duckettes; and also, if you’re lucky, geese, swans and even otters.

Multiple exposure of the Fairy Hillock

There are also, if legend is to be believed, fairies. A ways up the path there’s a knobbly mound called the Fairy Hillock. The story goes that two local men spent a day picnicking on the mound, when towards evening some fairies appeared and invited them inside for a feast. They accepted and stayed to party for a hundred years. When they finally emerged they expected the world to be transformed, only to discover they’d only been away from the real world for a day. (I must admit, when I was at university I went to one or two of those sorts of parties too.)

Trees reflected in the river

Meanwhile, here it is: the completed Wick gansey knit in Frangipani Cordova yarn. You can only really appreciate many of these Caithness ganseys when they’ve been blocked and opened out, like this one. And it’s a spanker; hats off to the anonymous knitter who crafted the original with finer yarn and needles than mine. I’ve knit a few of these for other people, or for the local museum, but this one I wanted to keep and wear for myself, for now at least. (That’s why it has the shaped neckline, because I don’t like the feeling of being clutched round the throat that traditional ganseys give me. I do regret the truncated central trees, though; it feels like hacking the head off a Rembrandt portrait so it will fit under the mantelpiece.) The Cordova yarn is a great shade too; sometimes blue-green, sometimes grey-blue, depending on your mood.

I like the Caithness fairy story because it’s a twist on the archetype: it ends happily, and proves that sometimes there really is such a thing as a free lunch. Usually in the old tales when people spend a night with the fair folk they discover that ages have passed in our world, like Rip van Winkle in the Catskills or Osian in Tír na nÓg (who found that 300 years had elapsed, and who instantly aged and died like an extra in an Indiana Jones movie). Although, having lived a number of years in Caithness, I wonder if there isn’t a simpler explanation: that many years did really elapse while they were in the Fairy Hillock, but when they emerged into present-day Wick they found that nothing had actually changed… 

20 comments to Wick (Cordova): Week 8 – 17 May

  • Lynne Brock

    Oh, Gordon, this one is a beauty! I love this Cordova color and I’m so tempted to do another gansey with it – but I don’t NEED another gansey and our climate has warmed so much I hardly get a chance to wear the ones I’ve knitted. I’m glad you’re keeping this for yourself.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, and thank you! And I was with you right up to the point when you used the “need” word! That ship sailed for me some time ago… 😀

  • Just telephoned Lynne, cambridgeshire to British Columbia, she told me about your cuff, it’s really nice. I still haven’t knitted a Gansey, all this time in lockdown and nothing to show for it. The new cuff is inspiring.

    • Gordon

      Thank you, Sue. I’d never seen a cuff like that before, and I must admit I feel rather proud on behalf of my adopted Caithness that there are still new things to learn!

      • Judit Mäkinen

        Gordon,the deeper you dig the more you find -this is true even in Caithness! I have just find a gansey-like pullover in Finlad! This is the Hailuoto fishermen garment. My next work will be this.
        Happy knitting , regards !

        • Gordon

          Hi Judit, fascinating! I always thought they were too useful a garment not to be widely adopted. And as the historians say, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence…

  • Very lovely! I’m about to buy some Frangipani in Cordova grey/blue. It’s a great colour.
    Thanks for the commentary re the neckline too. My thoughts exactly.

    • Gordon

      Hi Robyne, it’s a great shade. (Which reminds me, I must order some more from Deb Gillanders.) it’s hard to capture in a photo because it changes with the light.

      I went through a phase of trying to adjust to traditional collars, but gave up: comfort every time, and besides, it wasn’t unknown for the old ganseys to be shaped too, judging from the old photos.

  • Rebecca Wheeler

    This gansey is both spectacular and exquisite – I absolutely love the design and the
    Cordova color is beyond it. I ordered/received this yarn from the Net Loft, and
    find myself gazing out over the ocean to pick the color out – anxious to start knitting it.
    You should absolutely keep this one for yourself and enjoy wearing it. Please know that your informative instruction is much appreciated and has led me to knit several
    gansey sweaters; which has helped greatly in getting through this period of COVID.
    Now that spring has sprung – walking is essential. Uh-humm. Have you entertained the
    idea of writing a book at some point?

  • sally jo

    I love the cuffs, very nice detail

    • Gordon

      Thank you Sally Jo! I’m tempted to add them to every gansey I knit from now on… then I remember how tricky they were to knit!

  • Rebecca Wheeler

    More specifically, a book about gansey knitting!

    • Gordon

      Hi Rebecca, I’m answering your other post too here. Yes, I’ve thought about writing a gansey book – but as the man says on Futurama, “what, do I not look like a lazy person?”. For now I’m happy to knit ganseys, and blog in a freewheeling, self-indulgent sort of way about it. If I wrote a book it would end up being Serious, probably, and get snarky reviews on Amazon!

      Best of luck with the Cordova yarn. It’s a splendid shade, just crying out for cables and diamonds and what-not. The problem I have is, I knitted this one for me to wear, and now it looks too nice! I’d be frightened of damaging it…

  • =Tamar

    It’s not so much a truncated tree as a sort of candelabra.

    I like the Caithness fairies.

  • Nigel

    Wow, Gordon. It is really beautiful, you must be delighted. Is it possible you can share the pattern for the cuff, it is really eye catching. 👌

    • Gordon

      Thanks Nigel. As for the cuff pattern, just scroll down – I posted it last week, right near the bottom of the blog page (hopefully it’s still there!)

  • Absolutely love it. The colour is a beaut too.

  • Christiann L

    Gorgeous!!! And those cuffs !!!! Admiring from Nova Scotia !!

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