While wandering around the tranquil picturesque harbours of many Scottish coastal fishing villages populated with little cafes, gift shops and tourists clutching ice creams it is easy to forget that these villages were once thriving hives of industry all connected with fishing.
Portsoy on the Moray Firth Coastline is no exception and a good introduction to its history is a visit to the little museum called “The Salmon Bothy”. Built in 1834 The Salmon Bothy was the centre and hub of all salmon related fishing activity in the town acting as a commercial ice house, a net store and repair facility, an area where the tarring of lines and nets took place and a preparation and packing facility for the parboiled and salted fish prior to its shipment to London, Europe and beyond. All manner of artefacts relating to the salmon industry are on display at this fascinating little museum as well as the little bunk room where crew members would have rested preserved in its original state.
The ice used here as the main form of preservative for the fish was taken from Loch Soy during the winter months and bought by cart to The Salmon Bothy then emptied through one of the large apertures in the barrel vaulted ceiling filling the room below. The building is north facing to aid its cooling and on the south side the ground level was built up to provide protection from the warmth of the sun as well as access to allow the ice to be dropped into the building. The huge thick walls and barrel vault ceiling amazingly kept the temperatures low enough for ice to be stored for some months, well into the following spring.
|The Salmon Bothy|
|Dont fancy putting out to sea in that!|
|Barrel vaulted ceiling and aperture.|
|The bunkhouse for the crew|
So I came to Portsoy to compete in a race called “The Follow the Herring 10k” and yet the museum seemed to be all about salmon. Surely something was wrong?
It all seemed a bit fishy to me…
But no, it wasn’t just a red herring…herring is central the story of Portsoy. Salmon fishing was prevalent in Scotland prior to the “Herring boom” of the 1800’s which reached its peak in Portsoy in 1875 and the economic success of the town came from the many local industries which played a supporting role to the fishing industry, the building currently housing the Portsoy marble shop was originally the site of the buoy factory, there was a foundry in the town and a ropery. Although commercial salmon fishing had been taking place in Scotland since the 1100’s there were no public rights to salmon fishing and wealthy landowners soon realised that individual angling and salmon farming were far more lucrative options than the age old tradition of fishing for Salmon at sea and as salmon fishing declined and herring became a delicacy abroad the herring fishing industry took off.
|Model of a bag net. A little white model of a boat in the top left corner gives it scale|
However this was an industry that was fraught with danger not to mention an unimaginably hard way of life. The picture below is of a small traditional fishing boat. In 1848 some 1000 similar boats put to sea one stormy August afternoon but eventually later that day the strength of the storm and the fierce tides meant that the returning boats could not reach the safety of the harbour. Over 100 boats were lost along with a similar number of lives with an obviously devastating effect on a very small community.
Anyway enough of me carping on about fish…
The “Follow the herring 10k”is a small race with a nice local low key feel. Admittedly the grim weather conditions may have kept people away as possibly did a clash with another local 10k but as it was one of the events in the programme for the Portsoy traditional boat festival, it did have quite a nice friendly atmosphere. The race started at the recreation park on the edge of the town as we all lined up shivering on the unseasonably chilly June morning. After a little lap of the road outside the park the race then headed out into the countryside. It was flat for the first mile or so and into a slight headwind before climbing to about the 3 mile mark. After that there was a nice descent and bit of flat road before a small section of farm track which ordinarily would have been quite dry and stony but was wet and muddy on race day. Finally the course takes you back to the town before finishing quite abruptly just before the harbour. I had set off conservatively and went into second place within the first mile and managed to stay there until the end and so I was happy enough with my run. The first woman home had set off fast and seemed to get faster during the race and I lost sight of her at around the 3 mile mark but the field of runners was big enough so that I was never really running out on my own for long.
I feel tempted at this point to make reference to my plantar fasciitis and how painful my sole was but I will refrain…
|Shivering at the start|
|In the last mile|
The race was very well marshalled and I imagine on a nice sunny June day there may be a few more spectators at the end of the run and it would have been nice to sit outside at the harbour with a beer and listen to some of the bands on the stage but it was just too wet and chilly to hang around for too long. Instead we decided to explore a bit and take a walk round the harbour and around the many craft stalls displaying their wares of pottery, knitting, glass and of course woodwork and all things related to the construction of traditional timber boats.
|Beer at the harbour|
|Smoking Arbroath Smokies!|
|Coracles. Not traditional to Scotland.|
|Portsoy from the other side of the harbour. The "Old Harbour was built in 1693 and the "New harbour" was built in the 1800s with the expansion of the herring fishing|
An important trading port since the sixteenth century Portsoy’s most famous export other than herring was the Portsoy marble used in the palace of Versaille. Luxury goods were bought into Scotland from the Netherlands such as confectionary and tea and also building materials like timber and slates. The decline of the trade port after the Napoleonic wars was due to strict trade tariffs thus Portsoy was soon gaining a reputation in smuggling and illegal trade. Many houses in Portsoy are reputed have various secret passages and hidey holes for illicit goods
|Simon was getting wet and crabby in the rain....|
Eventually we were drenched and decided that exploring the food festival and beer tent was the next best option.
|The Fishermans friend ice cream was an acquired taste. I settled for the strawberry and champagne flavour.|
As it was the follow the herring 10k I decided that it had to be locally bought herring for tea to round off a great day which was unfortunate for Simon as he has already had herring for lunch.
|Herring, Skirlie and whisky!|
*Apologies for the fish jokes...clearly they have no plaice here….