The landscape of East Lothian is littered with the ruins of medieval castles. Just a stone’s throw from each other are Crichton, Dirleton, and Hailes (which I note from my archives we visited a while ago at exactly this time of year). But the most impressive is surely Tantallon, which, as we came out from North Berwick yesterday, made a fine location for a walk. It is obviously not a hill, but has challenges of its own. Shall we go inside?

Once the stronghold of the “Red” Douglases, the castle saw its way through many sieges, before Cromwell had a go at it in 1651. The damage was irreparable, but no artillery could destroy the drama of the place.

Positioned high on the headland above the Firth of Forth, Tantallon was protected on one side by masonry built 12 feet thick, and on the others, by the sheer force of the landscape. No one was going to scale those cliffs to breach its walls.

I love the wind-blasted, salt-weathered sandstone.

Within the castle walls, things are darker, cooler; the sound of the waves a little quieter. You can go exploring . . .

. . . and climb some vertigo-inducing stairs . . .

. . .to the top of the curtain wall. . .

. . . where you can enjoy the best view of the Bass Rock there is.

Medieval castles are clearly not built for those with mobility issues, but, I am happy to say, cause minimal problem for scampering dogs who must learn to be good on their lead. Still, I made it up and down those crazy stairways without sticks or a fuss or anything. (Mum – all I can say is remember the clock tower at Dinan – you get the picture).

I often get a thing about a landscape, and I have one for this part of East Lothian that I find quite hard to put my finger on. It is rolling and domesticated, with its hawthorn hedgerows (you only see these in lowland Scotland, of course), its villages and towns, its fertile farmland. But there is something stark and exposed about it too – ruined castles, blasted trees, stubble fields, lone standing stones, volcanic plugs, beating waves – something discomfiting. The landscape is quiet, but with an underlying turmoil, and the sense that the dead do not sleep easy here. But perhaps this is obvious, given its history. I once wrote a poem for Tom about it, but that is another story.

Ok, so enough of this waffling on about castles and suchlike, what about that hat?

You may remember that I wrote about contrast and shade a little while ago, and this hat is an example of how I’ve been testing out some basic ideas. It uses a simple peerie pattern to showcase six colours, in pairs. My main principle when selecting colours (apart from whether I liked them or not) was that there had to be contrast within each pair, and contrast between each pair. There is nothing fancy going on here: the peeries use the pairs in turn, and within each pair, the colours alternate as foreground and background. The diagonal lines of the x’s give the eye a sense of the pattern’s continuity between each peerie stripe, and the crown decreases are integrated into the pattern, though the right slanting k2togs ruined my diagonals in some places – I didn’t notice this till the blocking, and realise it can be remedied by using a skpsso instead. Must give this a try.

This was totally addictive knitting – the pattern is so simple and intuitive that after just one peerie, I didn’t need to look at a chart, and it came together very quickly. The brim uses the same method of a knitted-in lining and i-cord edging as this, making the whole thing very cosy. The funny thing is that it was meant to be a tam – and indeed could still be blocked out as one if I used some pins or a plate – but when I had finished, I became sort of attached to the slightly slouchy beanie shape, and found myself unwilling to tam-ify it. I am thinking that, once I have adjusted the crown decreases, and tested its tam-i-ness, that I might write up the pattern. It is seriously fun to knit, can be made as either tam or beanie, and might also look great using just 2 colours. I used a little bit of orkney angora for the brim lining, and, for the rest, the Alice Starmore Hebridean 2 ply in poppy, whin, selkie, pebble beach, solan goose and machair. I have called it Tantallon, of course, and ravelled it here. Anyway, I have caught the colour bug again, and am already embarked on a further design experiment – whose guiding principle is, like this hat that of keeping it pretty simple.

Last week wasn’t so bad, but had its difficulties, for reasons I may elaborate on tomorrow. I am hoping for a good one to come.

55 thoughts on “Tantallon

  1. Considering that I spent 30 years of my life fairly close by, it is surprising how little time I have spent in East Lothian. Last year I cycled through it on my way back to Newcastle to catch the ferry. It was certainly impressive. Fantastic photos, thanks for sharing them. Love the hat, your coat and, of course, Bruce. I hope you have a good week, my fingers are crossed for you.
    All the best,

  2. Hi Kate, North Berwick and its surrounds are definitely among my (not so new) favourites–for us (in Glasgow) it’s just far enough away to feel like we have ‘gotten away’ but entirely hassle-free (and there is still that bit of me that sits on the train and says, ‘wheat fields? where am I?’) –I hid out there by myself a couple of weeks ago while S was in the US, and he was envious, so we have another trip planned in a few weeks time.
    The hat is great–always exciting when something that starts as an ‘exercise’ winds up being so lovely. (And I must say, I absolutely love your coat!)
    Here’s to a good week!
    All best,

  3. We have Bruce’s twin back again, his name is Woody. He is having a barking session with another dog further down the valley. We cannot keep him so I have to find him a new home – fingers crossed…….. Love the hat and coat. I wonder what yarn you used.
    Bye for now.

  4. A beautiful hat and a beautiful place! All these posts of your walks make me want to visit Scotland, and some day I will.

    The colours in your hat reminded me very much of a Norwegian chocolate-wrapping. It’s associated with walks too, since people bring it with them when they go skiing or walking in the woods. Often with an orange too :) You can see a picture here . The name Kvikklunsj means “a quick/fast lunch.

    I’m also glad to follow your posts about reconvalence, and I’m happy that you are feeling a little better, although I haven’t commented before. Thank you for your honesty, courage and eloquent writing, and of course, all the outstanding knitting.

    Martha Joy from Norway

  5. What a lovely and mysterious place. I enjoyed some time in the area, but never ventured to this location, guess I’ll have to visit again sometime! A lovely hat as well. :)

  6. Wow. That beanie is impressive-looking for its simple stitch pattern. Love how you’ve used the colours. I hope you do produce a pattern for it because I’d love to make it and experiment with different numbers of colours and different combinations. I love fair isle–both its effects and the extra warmth that it offers. :) Thanks so much for sharing another great piece of knitwear with us.
    Also, way to go for your spiral stair climb! That’s great!

    Take care,

  7. Great hat (and coat!) and love the evocative names of the Hebridean colours. We spent 3 years in Embra and never made it to Tantallon, so thanks for giving us a close-up.

  8. Autumnal with a hint of winter are great colourways for an October hat- I’d like to see a photo of the lining too!

    Your post reminded me of when we spent six months in the town-under construction that became Livingston, and of our explorations in and around some of the interesting parts of East Lothian, including Gifford, North Berwick, Gullane and so forth. And all the people we knew there briefly who are lost by time and memory now, and have merged into the myths of our former lives. So, thank you for that Kate.
    Very best wishes to you.

  9. ANOTHER amazing coat.

    You really do need to give us a guided tour of your wardrobe :-)

    Great hat. I must do myself a colourwork hat, but with a rolled brim. Ribbed brims make me look utterly ridiculous.

  10. Love the “Tamorbean”. Not sure if I could knit something that looks so technical. When you release the pattern I am going to try though!! Bruce is a really lucky dog to have great owners like you and Tom.

  11. Beautiful pictures. You are very lucky to have opportunity to visit all this greats places, to admire, to fell and to smell them. Lovely hat, coat and of course Bruce.
    Thanks for sharing. Bonne journée:)

  12. HI KATE—love your coat , what an amazing style , and the hat – you look great in those bright orange and gold colours — a pattern is a good idea

    – as always am amazed by the countryside , the forever there history and the sea

    – have the best of weeks ——-cheers –pat j

  13. Great photos (as usual)! They bring back some fine memories to me, seeing as I’ve been to Tantallon many years ago with my parents… And yes, I still remember those stairways – my mum, actually, refused point blank to climb to up to that curtain wall ;-)

    Oh, and that coat looks quite amazing, too, especially in the first two photos, just like something out of Northanger Abbey!

  14. An amazing little journey – thank you so much for having so many lovely photos. I may never get there so your tour is quite the blessing. That hat? Superb – you’ve really taken your study of shading and aced it…

    But, as others have noted, that COAT!!! I NEED that coat so desperately. Really. Amazing details from the flared cuffs to the pleated front piece…write about it, won’t you?

    P.S. Thrilled to know you can enjoy these outtings once again. You are brave and an example to those of us who give no thought to the abilities we have….

  15. I love the silhouettes of you and the Bruce against the red of the castle and the pink light of an East Lothian afternoon. The hat is a triumph – absolutely beautiful. Your pictures and text made me anticipate even more my coming up to Edinburgh later this week to see my Mum and take middle daughter to the Art School open day. Hope the weather stays as crisp as it looks in your photos.

  16. What a beautiful backdrop for the photos! The hat is very nice and the photos of you and Bruce are just wonderful. Thank you for sharing such a lovely place and some history with us.

  17. Another vote for coat information. Of course when you are striding around such a dramatic place, you need a coat that ripples and billows. It’s fantastic.

  18. This is one (of many) of your posts that I shall keep. I love it all, and firmly believe that your spirit must have roamed that area in another time. The shot of you and Bruce communing is fantastic as is the effect that the wind has on your coat and your silhouette.
    Love, love, love the hat. Must have the pattern or I’ll die trying to replicate it.
    As always, I’m grateful to have “found” you and grateful, again, for your wonderful posts – and your hard-won recovery!
    With gratitude & appreciation,

  19. Hi there – lovely post, as ever. Just thought you might be interested in the work of John Houston who painted Bass Rock many times over the course of his career. I’ve tried to find a link online, but the image I wanted is unavailable at the moment. There are several fabulous storms, and of course a sunset or two, all of which capture the rock’s peculiar majesty. Love the new hat too.

  20. I have been reading your blog for several months and it is now, through the force of sheer envy, that I am moved to comment. You do know that you live in one of the most beautiful places on earth? As a former, temporary resident of the UK, my long-ago, one year visit continues to induce pangs of homesickness and I have come to rely on your images and words for spiritual sustenance. I live in the US, in New England, which has its charms, however quaint, but it cannot match the drama and feral beauty of the Scottish landscape. Your striking pictures of Tantallon reveal so clearly the power of that landscape, still haunting, still giving rise to that thrilling frisson of primal uneasiness.

    Your hat and dog are awfully nice, too.

    Many thanks and good wishes.

  21. I wish I had your coat. I cannot seem to marry the ideals of ‘attractive’ and ‘functional’ in something that is ‘available to buy’ and ‘in my price range’….. sigh….

  22. what a great backdrop for you and my boyfriend Bruce. ;) i love the untamification of the hat, I can never really get a Tam to look right on me. but a beanie, yes. ;)

  23. How nice to discover that even though I have only visited Scotland twice in my life, I actually have visited Tantallon! My relatives live relatively nearby. And now I have seen, that you are also in 2 Danish knitting groups on Ravelry! Hurrah! Your coat is so beautiful, have you made it yourself? The hat too, of course. And the photos. And …everything!!

  24. You and Bruce are both looking wonderful. With Tantallon you’ve added to my “must see” and “must knit” lists. The beanie/tam is giving me grand ideas of how to use my Hebridean leftovers– shall I start experimenting, or wait for the pattern?

  25. Thank you for posting those beautiful photos. I am from Edinburgh with lots of family connections in East Lothian and after I learned to drive, I spent three years obsessively driving up and down all its byways with my then-boyfriend. I have exactly the same “thing” you describe for that wonderful, evocative landscape, and living as I do now in East Anglia, I very rarely get to see it. So it was an un-looked for joy to find its essence so perfectly captured in your pictures and writing today; it took me out of the library for a minute and back to the many times I’ve scrambled up and down Tantallon’s staircases and felt the stiff breeze from the top of the curtain wall while trying to capture the Bass Rock in a photograph that does it justice (never as well as you). Thank you.

    The hat is absolutely beautiful too.

  26. Another request for details of your amazing coat! I’ve been reading for a while and am always transported to another world with your writing and photography. And the knitting isn’t bad either :)

  27. hello! i just found your blog thanks to my sister and she was right – i love it here! LOVE and share your style/fashion. coat = amazing. love the scenery and wish i had a castle close by to walk up to!
    have always wanted to do a fairisle in that pattern but as i have already got 2 jumpers on the needles (and am a very slow knitter) i didnt want to start another. SO the hat has given me great inspiration : )

    thanks so much!!!

  28. Sorry, but I too love the coat, is it one you made? I suspect there’s a story about the cloth. It looks like we need you to tell us.

  29. Dear Kate,
    I moved to Hawaii a month ago. Here we have such a nice weather (a little bit hot, though)!! But, your nice designs of sweaters and hats makes me miss a little of wind and snow to be able to knit and wear them. I also miss old stone towns, medieval places, wooden churches… Maybe after Hawaii we’ll move to Norway and then I’ll buy and knit all of your designs! I like Quails a lot, so as others have already asked, I’m hoping that someday you’ll write the pattern for us, beginners.
    Well, just to say thanks a lot for sharing them. Best wishes for your recovery and apologies for the English, it is not my first language.

  30. Love the beanie/tam hat, hope you will publish the pattern. Also, your coat in that setting is stunning! Thanks for sharing with us.

  31. Oh I love Tantallon, or as I mis-pronounce it, Tante Allon, making my Beloved protest that it is not a French transvestite aunt but a wonderful East Lothian castle! (I blame the mispronounciation on being from central Scotland). I am impressed at your taking on the stairs, having slipped on them myself, they can get damp, as well as structurally hair-raising.
    Thanks for your interesting thoughts on the EL landscape, I find it a contradiction of lush (or as near as you can get in Scotland), bleak, power, and comfort. I love it.
    And I like the beanie shape of your wonderful, colourful hat, and a further request for info on the amazing coat.

  32. Somehow, it looks like you live at the castle in the first photo; to do with the lovely dramatic coat I expect. A noblewoman taking a turn with her dog.

  33. I love your hat (and your coat is absolutely fabulous, too!). Thank you for all the gorgeous castle pictures–I have only ever seen the soot-stained Edinburgh version of Scottish sandstone, and your pictures capture the weather-blasted pink version beautifully!

  34. love the hat–and the smile underneath it. from a reader’s perspective, following the blog/story of your life, it is nice to see (I hope that doesn’t come off as too stalker-ish! I certainly don’t mean it that way.) and bruce is getting huge! and very handsome. cheers–lisa

  35. Love the pictures, and your colour sense and creativity. It’s like “what Katie did next.”
    The pictures of your homeland are so beautiful, and you always manage to be likewise attired. Love the history!

  36. Love the colours in your hat..and I’m so jealous of your coat. It reminds me of my first 1960s long coat which has long since worn out…and would be … sizes too small. I just finished my neepheid which has been sleeping but weather and my mood said it was time to finish it…and it’s probably going to be beanie style for me. Will be watching for Tantallon pattern.
    Beautiful photos as always…and I hope you find some fabulous new shoes.

  37. PS: Kate, I also mean’t to say that I think you may have a touch of the’fae’..;hawthorn hedgerows and all that history in such a windswept amazing place by a castle., and you are feeling the imprints on the area. I think anyway :-)

  38. I LOVE the hat! I’m rather glad that there were details about it at the end of the post after spotting it in one of the early photos and thinking it looked rather fabulous :-) I’d love it if you decide to write up the pattern!

leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)