Helen Mark discovers why local people are preserving the heritage of the gansey, a distinctive fisherman's garment, in the coastal communities of the Moray Firth.
The fisherman’s gansey (a word thought to derive from ‘guernsey’) is a seamless woollen pullover worn by generations of seamen for work and at leisure. It was comfortable, practical and tough enough to provide some protection from the elements, and every community had its own pattern (possibly in an effort to identify drowned fishermen) although these patterns were seldom committed to paper. The ganseys of the Moray Firth coastline, the 500 miles between Duncansby Head and Fraserburgh, have become the focus of a three-year project aiming to preserve the heritage of the fishing communities and save the gansey from becoming a historical curiosity. Project workers are working to save existing ganseys, helping local knitting groups to create new ones and encouraging modern interpretations of this most traditional of garments. The gansey, it turns out, is more than a fisherman’s jumper: it’s a potent symbol of lives past and of a community in danger of losing touch with its early fishing roots.