Learning a new skill.

Plane Tabling? What on earth is that? That was my response to my husband’s query whether we should sign ourselves up for some of the latest NOSAS (North of Scotland Archaeology Society) activities.

Needless to say I googled it! I still wasn’t sure if it was really my thing as I’m not exactly very precise when it comes to measuring and accurate scale drawings which is what it sounded like it entailed. However, what could be the harm in giving it a go and it meant a day out in the fresh air in a part of the country I didn’t know much about. So we signed ourselves up to ‘plane table’ Ormond Castle by Avoch on The Black Isle.

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Not a lot remains of this little understood Medieval enclosure castle which is situated on top of the hill. It is traditionally associated with William the Lionheart who built 2 castles on The Black Isle in 1179. This is believed to be the remains of one of them. After being in the hands of the de Moray family it passed to Royal control in 1455 and in 1481 James III granted it to his son, the Marquis of Ormond where it gets its present name from. It was destroyed during Cromwell’s invasion in 1650, with the stones being removed to build his Citadel in Inverness.

The local Avoch archaeology group wanted to record the remaining features of the castle and look into the possibility of a dig sometime in the future. Nowadays, a lot of the recording processes are done with modern instruments like GPS and laser measuring devices but traditionally the process known as ‘plane tabling’ has been used.

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After a wee introduction we were assigned to groups and given a section of the site to record. Breathing a sigh of relief, I was told my leader knew all about the process. We only had to record the outlines of features e.g walls that we could ‘see’. However, as everything was overgrown with grass including old tree stumps this wasn’t straightforward and led to a few discussions about where the edges actually were! Measurements were taken and it was all plotted on the paper, before joining up the dots and drawing shapes which hopefully matched what we could see on the ground.

Although the day was a little dull, it stayed dry with only a gentle breeze so our coffee and lunch breaks sitting on top of the hill were very enjoyable. The views down to the small village of Avoch, the snowy hills to the west and across the firth to the Inverness airport area were beautiful. Truly, a great site for a castle.

Our task was purely to record the castle and absolutely not to dig or excavate in any way. However, animals had been digging around so one of the leaders had a wee look at the burrows in case anything had come to the surface. She was rewarded with a piece of medieval pottery which she has now passed on to the concerned authorities.

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It doesn’t look very exciting but in real life you could see the typically green glaze that was common at this time. It also reminded me of the pieces that were excavated at Cromarty – not so very far away- last summer.

Well, despite my reservations I really enjoyed the new experience and think my measuring and recording was reasonably accurate! There are 3 more plane tabling days planned to record other sites and I definitely want to go to at least one of them to practise what I’ve learnt and hopefully improve on it- I just hope I’m assigned to as knowledgable and patient a leader as I was this time.

 

 

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Ganseys.

One of my lasting memories of my maternal grandmother is that she was always ‘wyvin’ -or in English knitting. And the garments that were always on her ‘wires’ or knitting needles were Ganseys- ¬†patterned fishing jumpers. My father and uncles were fishermen so she always had someone to appreciate her knitting. Despite this she found time to knit for other people who were not so skilled in the art of the Gansey. She never used a pattern and used to mix and match ideas from other jumpers she had seen. Using 4 shiny, silver, metal, double-pointed needles always looked a dangerous procedure to my young eyes. Added to this she wore a knitting sheath/belt where she stabbed one of the needles into, to take the weight of the Gansey whilst she knitted. Each time she thrust the needle into the belt I could hardly believe she hadn’t done herself an injury!

After my grandmother died in 1993 I don’t think I ever saw anyone knit a Gansey again. The fishing industry had declined and the younger fishermen bought ready made clothing (perhaps their womenfolk had other things to do with their time?).

This week the Gansey came into my life again when I read that there was an exhibition in The Maritime Museum in Aberdeen of Ganseys. I just had to go!

2 Ganseys.

2 Ganseys.

One style of neck detail.

One style of neck detail.

Pattern detail.

Pattern detail.

More Ganseys.

More Ganseys.

i am so happy that this skilful art has been recognised and examples saved for posterity. But even better The Moray Firth Gansey Project has not only made more people aware of this knitting heritage but has also encouraged knitters to keep the art alive and evolve new ways to use the patterns like this ladies jumper by knitwear designer, Di Gilpin.

Jumper by Di Gilpin.

Jumper by Di Gilpin.

I also got a lovely surprise to see that 2 of the Ganseys were credited to Mrs. Isabella Stewart- my grandmother!