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Wick Malcolm Campbell: Week 2 – 25 April

We’ve been on holiday this week, and for a change pretended we’d come to Caithness on vacation, and resolved to get out and do touristy things. So we’ve spent the week dropping litter, complaining about the weather, asking passers-by where the nearest Starbucks is (Inverness, i.e., 100 miles away), and wondering why we’d come. 

RSPB Forsinard

On Thursday we went over to the Forsinard nature reserve, out west on the Caithness-Sutherland border. There’s no direct road from Wick, so you have to go about 30-40 miles north or south to hit the 40-mile long single-track road (the A897) that runs all the way from the north coast near Reay to Helmsdale on the east coast. If you look up “the middle of nowhere” in the dictionary you’ll see a picture of Forsinard. It’s a stunning drive, though, following the river all the way down Strath Halladale, starting among the bleak northern hills, down through Europe’s largest peat bog (rebranded the “Flow Country” by marketing professionals, which always feels as if should be prefixed with the word “Sani”). Head south from Forsinard and you enter a broad, fertile river valley, with lochs, sheep, and fishermen in waders optimistically casting for salmon.

Stack at Sandside, near Dounreay

Of course I got plenty of knitting done this week too. I duly finished the navy Wick gansey, and here it is, all washed and blocked. It still looks kinda weird, as though someone had had the bright idea of combining a pullover with an accordion; but it would make for a nicely snug fit, and, given the prevailing Caithness winds, seems eminently practical.

It’s a double-header of finished ganseys this week, as Judit has sent us pictures of a golden gansey in the classic Staithes pattern, a splendid present to a young lady on passing her Finnish language exam. Staithes is a classic for a reason, and can be scaled up or down to suit and still look great, as this proves. Many congratulations to Judit, and the lucky recipient also, of course, and many thanks as ever for sharing.

Cliffs near Sarclet

The name Forsinard is an interesting combination of Norse and Gaelic, Fors-an-airde (fors being Norse for torrent or waterfall, while airde is Gaelic for upper, higher). Though, given how flat it all is, you wonder where the lower waterfall might be—the whole area resembling the impact crater of a meteorite, possibly the one that wiped out all the haggis. It’s squarely in squishy peat bog territory, a vast wetland ringed in the far distance by the mountains of Sutherland. There’s a futuristic viewing tower about a mile from the road, which you reach by a causeway, and numerous lochans dotted among the peat—if I managed the reserve, the temptation to hide dummies in them with the faces of elves and orcs, like the fallen warriors in the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings, would prove irresistible. Other than that, there’s basically a whole lot of nothing. It’s so empty it brings to mind Philip Larkin’s bon mot about growing up in Coventry: “Nothing, like something, happens anywhere…”

10 comments to Wick Malcolm Campbell: Week 2 – 25 April

  • =Tamar

    Not dummies in all of them – only two, so people would go mad looking for the others.

    • Gordon

      Ha! Yes. My other idea was to have their eyes shut, but give them sensors so that when someone leaned over to look in their eyes would snap open and freak them out…

  • Dave

    I thought it was a myth that the haggis had been made extinct. Sad face.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, well, rumour has it some escaped by hiding in Loch Ness. This is suggested as the reason why sightings of the Loch Ness monster are so rare, it’s not really a monster but rival clans of haggis having a mass brawl in the loch…

  • Meg Macleod

    i was wondering ..have you ever counted how many gnseys you have knitted?
    your dedication to your craft never ceases to astonish

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, no, I’ve never counted. The first decade or so before the blog I was much lazier, and probably only knit 2 or 3 a year. I’m currently averaging about 4-5 a year, which is probably creeping into obsession territory, to be fair. I like to think that, if I get into heaven, all the angels will be waiting with yarn and needles, ready to place their gansey orders… I don’t think I’d get bored, even with all eternity before me!

  • sharon g pottinger

    I’ve been told by a Norwegian–though not a linguist–that forss as in forss house hotel and forsinard is not waterfall but a salmon stream–dont know, just passing along the info given to me fwiw

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, and thanks. The dictionaries have it as waterfall, torrent or stream, so you can pretty much take your pick! If I were a salmon – sadly, I failed the exam in secondary school – I’d definitely prefer to travel up a stream than a waterfall…

  • Judit Mäkinen

    Many many thanks for your kind words Gordon. Thanks for adding my golden gansey to readers gallery.
    Happy knitting !

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