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Wick Malcolm Campbell: Week 1 – 18 April

Just a short blog this week, as spring is here at last, I’m on holiday all week and the great outdoors is calling. What it’s calling is harder to say; rude names, possibly. 

I was a little perturbed to receive an email this last week headed, “Included in your membership: backstabbing, betrayal and long-buried secrets”—I thought my Guardian Angel had mistakenly sent me his briefing note for how my life should turn out. Then I realised that I’m a subscriber to the talking book service Audible.com, and this was merely an advert for their latest releases.

Daffodils by the old library

They’ve been digging up the roads around Wick the last few weeks, apparently to check the water mains. Though it’s more like an archaeological dig than what you’d normally expect from main drainage works. In brief, they sink a series of exploratory trenches, each one a few yards long by a couple of yards wide, thirty or forty yards or so apart, then put barricades around them and go away, presumably to dig up somewhere else. I can only assume one of them dropped his car keys down there a while back and now they’re all looking for them. Every now and again they come and dig another hole, or else just stare thoughtfully into the deeps, as though listening for a distant voice shouting “You shall not pass!” or “Fool of a Took!”.

Incidentally, The Lord of the Rings has a genuine echo in Wick, as there’s a point on the north side of the bay across from the harbour called Proudfoot, and a modern road that’s been named after it. Every time we see the sign, the pavlovian response proves impossible to resist and we call out in unison, “ProudFEET!” after the elderly hobbit at Bilbo’s birthday party.

As for spring, I’m firmly in Virginia “Big Bad” Woolf’s camp when she said, “Yes, I deserve a Spring—I owe nobody nothing.” You and me both, Ginny, you and me both…

The ‘Soldiers’ Tower’



This is another pick-up-and-set-down project I’ve been working on for several months (and no, it’s not really “week 1”; not even I knit that fast!). I said the other day that my plan is to knit up a number of Caithness ganseys, taken from the Johnston Collection of historical photographs, many of them of Victorian and Edwardian fishermen. The originals are glass plate negatives, and are often so sharp and clear that you can see every stitch. There are 50,000 photographs in the collection, though only a tiny fraction feature ganseys.

More creels by the harbour

Caithness ganseys come in three main types: the really fancy ones, like that worn by Fergus Ferguson, my last project, which rival their Hebridean kin for ornate decorativeness; simpler patterns, such as diamonds and chevrons or double moss stitch; and very simple patterns, effectively just ribbing from welt to shoulder. This gansey is almost an exact replica of one worn by Malcolm Campbell when he had his picture taken in 1912, and features double moss stitch panels alternating with cables, and a plain panel on each side. I’ve tried to make the stitch count exactly the same, though with chunky late-period Wendy yarn it’s inevitably knitting up rather bigger than Malcolm’s original. I didn’t bother with a pattern chart, this being the sort of pattern I can do in my sleep.

The obvious stand-out feature is the ribbing, which reaches from welt to yoke—obviously to create a snug fit around the waist. Quite a few Caithness ganseys do this. Because I’m knitting this gansey for show—if anyone will be interested in showing it, that is—and not to wear, I’ve kept it in. I’m not a big fan of the look, myself; if I wore something tight round the middle like this I’d look like someone bursting out of a cake, and while Debbie Reynolds could pull that off I’m not sure I could. The other feature is of course the saddle shoulder, with the cable running along the shoulder from collar to bicep. These are always fiddly to get right, but they really do catch the eye once the gansey is washed and blocked and draped over a well-shaped shoulder.

7 comments to Wick Malcolm Campbell: Week 1 – 18 April

  • Lynne Bilton

    Unusual ribbing that!. I like the cable & moss st pattern too.
    I really think you should be entering your Fergus Ferguson into the RHS!

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, it’s very tempting, but I tend to avoid competitions, as a rule – If I win, I feel guilty, and If I lose, I feel aggrieved! 😀

  • =Tamar

    I can see an advantage to the snug waist; it will stay smooth without pleating, so is less likely to catch on something, as well as being less breezy.
    A very handsome effect with that shoulder treatment.

    It must be construction season. One of my neighbors just had a concrete patio put in, and I now know that modern concrete is mixed (noisily) on the spot with a huge truck that carries the mix and the water separately. The mix pours into a smaller carrier that wheels it to the site. Fascinating.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, yes, I’m surprised it wasn’t more common in other places – certainly quite a few of the Caithness fishermen in the old photos have ganseys with this sort of ribbing, and ribbing from the elbows all the way to the wrists.

      The first quarter of any year is normally when the roads get done, as local councils look to use up any underspends before the end of the financial year. Maybe they should fill in our potholes with concrete, given the current shortage of bitumen?

  • Pamela Proudfoot Brown

    Thank you!! My family name is Proudfoot, and I’ve just started doing some genealogy work. I had no idea about the use of the name in the Wicks area. Another lead to research!

    • Gordon

      Hi Pamela, I don’t know if there are any people with the surname Proudfoot recorded in the Caithness archives. I don’t recall coming across the name here except in connection to the rocks on the north side of Wick Bay. You can search the census for the whole of Scotland from 1841 (when it started), just look up “www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk” and you’ll get the official website for the National Records of Scotland, where all this is recorded.

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