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Carrying by John McNaught www.johnmcnaught.com

The Findhorn Fishwives

The Scottish coastline is punctuated with villages gathered around harbour. Fishing was once a thriving industry in Scotland, if not the strongest and the villages along the Moray Firth were once dependant on the waters.

Findhorn lies to the East of Inverness.  Its neighbouring towns, Buckie, Lossiemouth and Nairn were all key fishing towns because of the natural safe anchorage along the North East coast. Fishing was important to the village economy as it supported families during hard times and preserving fish meant food for the winter.  Catches of herring, salmon and whitefish were landed on the shore, they were equally divided between the men and then women would meet them. They were the real heroes. The fishwives were strong, hardy women who gathered, gutted, processed, sold and bartered the men’s catch. They would rise early, dress in sturdy shoes, thick stockings, a long skirt, an apron and a shawl to shelter from the rain. With their creel on their back they would meet the boats, fill up with the catch and walk miles to sell and barter the fish for food and household goods. They would start this career in their teens and work well into their 70s.  After this long hard day they would come home, cook and sometimes even collect and carry their husband home.

As well as the creel they would tie knitting needles and a pouch for wool around their waist, whilst waiting for the boats they would chatter and knit.  The jumpers, known as Ganseys, were all unique. The patterns would identify the male owner, marking whether he was married, how many children he had and where he was from.  The women would knit 7 jumpers for the men, who also required socks and woollen underwear. The girls would also repair and tie the nets and prepare the hooks for the men.

There is a statue in Nairn of a proud fisherwoman, standing with her basket on her back, facing the town with the beach behind her.  This statue commemorates the women who supported entire villages with their relentless work. Many wives and young women followed the fishing fleets chasing the seasons, travelling all over the country gutting, smoking and packing fish into barrels.  The aim was to earn enough for the year in those 6 weeks. By the time the First World War broke out, the industry collapsed and fishing slowly declined but there is still a van from Buckie that arrives each week with fresh fish to the ANTA factory, supplying us with our Moray Firth catch.  

Image: Carrying by John McNaught www.johnmcnaught.com

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