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Wick (Donald Murray): Week 12 – 10 June

There was one stunningly beautiful day last week when the clouds parted and the sun came out, the whole world looking as if the wrapping had just come off, everything was shiny and fresh and new. So we went up to Dunnet Head, the most northerly tip of mainland Britain. The parking area was heaving with camper vans and cars—curse you, North Coast 500—but up the hill the viewing point was comparatively deserted. It was glorious on the summit, all the kingdoms of the world laid before us, so that I kept expecting Satan to pop up and make me an offer; but he was probably too busy dealing with the aftermath of the Peterborough by-election and Trump’s state visit. It couldn’t last, of course, and next day the clouds rolled back—but just for a moment there it felt as though I’d found the missing piece in the jigsaw of the world.

Distant Mountains – looking towards Cape Wrath

Dunnet Head was a military installation in World War Two, keeping a bleak watch over the Pentland Firth and the northern approaches. This week of course marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, with commemorative events in Britain and France. I had to stop listening to some of the accounts that were read out, they were so moving. But I’ve been reading up on the war, and I’d like to share with you a couple of stories from the summer of 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain. It’s well-known that many Polish pilots fought on the British side. Well, in one dogfight one of these Polish airmen had his plane shot down, and he bailed out. He came down in the middle of a tennis club. So with a certain amount of style he telephoned the RAF to let them know where he was and while he was waiting the club loaned him some whites and a racquet, and he whiled away the time thrashing the locals at tennis until a truck came to take him back to barracks.

Iris in Dunnet Forest

On another occasion, another Polish pilot also had to bail out. But as he landed in some rural spot his parachute snagged in a tree, leaving him hanging there. A hostile crowd of locals soon gathered, many brandishing pitchforks, assuming he was German. Someone produced a shotgun and shouted in German, “Hände hoch!” (hands up). In desperation the Pole shouted back some of the few English words he knew: “Fuck off!” As soon as they heard this the crowd relaxed and went away smiling, saying, “It’s all right, he’s one of ours!”

Yoke side chart


With the Scarborough gansey completed, it’s time for Donald Murray’s pattern to shine. The gansey has my standard stitch count of 336 stitches for the welt, increasing to 368 for the body. The body has the typical Wick ribbing; in this case, panels of 7 plain stitches alternating with a ribbing of purl-knit-purl-knit-purl-knit-purl. The purpose was doubtless to pull the gansey tighter in to the body, but I must admit I don’t enjoy knitting it: I can never get it to flow naturally—it feels like being kept in after school to do lines, somehow.

Yoke centre chart

The original has a central border panel to separate the body from the yoke, a diamond trellis (not shown). But the original is knit for a much smaller frame than mine, with finer yarn on smaller needles; I just don’t have enough rows to fit everything in, or the gansey would come down to my knees. But by losing that central panel the number of rows for the yoke pattern on the original is a pretty exact match for the number of rows I need to fit me—about 140 rows from the start of the yoke to the start of the shoulder. For the width, I had to make a small increase in the number of stitches (the original number would have been too tight); but by expanding the moss stitch side panels and widening one of the horseshoe cables, I was able to get it to add up without resorting to a calculator. And how stunning these Caithness patterns are, a sort of missing link between, say, the ganseys of Yorkshire and those of the Hebrides. Even by manipulating the scale like this, I’d count them among the most impressive I’ve knit, and they really do deserve to be better known.

3 comments to Wick (Donald Murray): Week 12 – 10 June

  • =Tamar

    The grey yarn brings out the pattern in all its complexity.

    A thought for the future? I believe a publisher might be interested in making a collection of your gansey work, especially given that your design adaptations are made to fit modern bodies. There is still a dearth of knitting patterns for men compared to the number written for women.

  • luisella bellingeri

    this wick model is wonderful!!!
    I have a problem with the bottom, how do you get the vertical striped effect?

  • Gordon

    Hi Luisella, sorry not to reply to you sooner. The body is knit in alternating bands of (a) 5 knit stitches and (b) p-k-p-k-p-k-p. This pulls in the body to reduce the risk of snagging and creates a striking effect, though you need the right figure to set it off, I find!

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