The oral history of forays to the Minches by fishermen of Ayrshire and Kintyre - to what they called "the north". It is presented through the men's memories and traditions as recorded and edited by their friend and historian, Angus Martin. As such it contains intimate details of the skills, courage and humour of these sea-going hunters, rather than detailed descriptions of the techniques involved. However, the book does explore "appearances" or the fishermen's uncanny ability to interpret natural phenomena and to see, smell, hear and feel the very presence of the herring beneath the surface.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION:
North, for the purposes of this work, may be defined broadly as
two fishing areas. There was the "West Side", which
extended from Barra Head - the southernmost tip of the Outer Hebrides
- to the Butt of Lewis in the north. But that long, indented coastline
can itself be divided into two parts at the Sound of Harris, south
of which most of the fishing effort was concentrated.
"West Side" was the west side of the Minch, but the
east side of the Outer Hebrides. The ring-net fishermen very seldom
ventured out into the Atlantic to west or south. The waters north
of the Sound of Harris were considered a rather hostile area until
after the Second World War, because the native and East-Coast
drift-net fishermen encountered there had no liking for ring-netting
and were known to vent their opposition in threats and acts of
the east side of the Minch, the main fishing grounds - chiefly
in summer - were around Canna, the Heisgeir and in the Skye lochs,
with later forays into the Mull lochs. The main markets overall
were at Mallaig, Oban and Gairloch.
herring-fishermen have gone to the Minches since the 18th century,
and perhaps earlier. They went before the buss experiment in Government
subsidisation of the catching and curing industry began in 1750.
After the end of the buss fishery, Clyde fishermen worked the
Minches in smacks. As with the buss fishery, the actual fishing
was done from open boats, with the crews living in the larger
boat. When the smacks were discarded in the late 19th century,
and the Loch Fyne Skiff, on the Argyll side of the Firth, and
the Nabby, on the Ayrshire side, became virtually the universal
style of fishing craft on the Clyde, the fishermen went to the
Minches in these. Some were little more than 30 feet long, but
were sailed north to the winter drift-net fisheries in Loch Broom,
Loch Hourn, Loch Seaforth and elsewhere.
is arguable whether the seamanship of these skiff fishermen exceeded
that of the later ring-net fishermen who ploughed the winter waters
of the Minches in 50- and 60-foot motor boats, regularly crossing
loaded to the mainland markets from the Outer Isles in gales of
the winter herring-fishery in the North challenged all who participated
in it. Not only was weather a big factor, but also the fishing
operation itself, which was often conducted in darkness along
shores perilous with rocks and tide. It is remarkable - and a
tribute to both boats and men - that nobody was killed and only
one boat was lost - Willie McCaffer's Golden Gleam of Tarbert,
at the Cailleach, Mull, on 26 October 1954 - in all the years
the Clyde men worked ring-nets in the North...."
I Biographical Notes on Contributors
II The Little Places
Bibliography, Glossary, Index etc.
SORRY - currently out-of-print