Sunday, 12 June 2011

Trawling for Mullet in North Uist

Timetable issued by Martin Orme
Scraps of paper were often difficult to come by and so Alexander Carmichael would use anything that he could lay his hands on. Here, for example, is a wonderful piece of ephemera for the July sailings between Glasgow and the Highlands and Islands on the steamers “Dunara Castle” and the “Aros Castle” by Martin Orme, 20 Robertson Street, Glasgow. The timetable is dated 21st of June, 1880. On the reverse of this piece of paper Carmichael wrote an account in an execrable hand, it must be said, about trawling for mullet in North Uist where he describes how the mud was ‘tenacious’ and it was easy to sink down into it and where he also recollected an episode in which ‘the gaffer’ got stuck in the mud and after an hour and fifteen minutes was dragged out using heather.

Left aft[er] breakf[a]st with
Stoddart Ranald Rob[er]t[son]
Seoras Beag & Willie Davidson
across hill to [words omitted]
Telegram for Lord Dunmore
com[in]g to Newton to shoot seals.
Newton rem[ain]ing behind to go with
him.
Reach[e]d the place trawl[e]d
two ^two pools – got only a few
small flounders – No mullet
up to knees in tenacious
mud – on sea side of pools,
for many score y[a]rds. Dragged
ourselves & net to land as best we
could – we
raised the net thro[ugh] water & one
of men [sent] to up[per] pool –
Lower end of this full of stones.
We stone the fish to up[per] fr[om] this
& then throw the net across – 1 went
at each end – two to drag & one
to keep net in order & keep in fish.
But fish w[ou]ld not be kept in
& they flew over the top of
net like pheasants over
over battue net with a
spring & ^a whirr like a grouse
A young shep[herd] laid this
4 off these with stones as they
rushed down to lower end
Aft[er] much man[ou]vering we
got net ashore it cont[ained] 12
mullets and 2 flounders.
Those on my side narr[owly]
escaped stick[in]g in mud. [It]
was soft & nasty as mud c[ou]ld
be the accounts of those
of years & to the depth of many
feet – To stop was to go sink down
to the hip – I went down &
I could not come till our
gaffer stretch[e]d me his hand.
To stay myself out was very
diff[icult] – The mud was tena[cious] as strong
glue & my f[oo]t felt as if a ton
weight w[a]s hold[in]g it down
But what bet[ter] the gaffer[’]s
scold[in]g & help I got out
& dragged myself to shore
sat on a stone exhausted
to rest. And now it was
gaffers turn. He was going
fast along to keep from
sinking but down deeper
& deeper he sank in both
legs bey[on]d knee & then he stuck
He laughed as he struggled
floundered scolded & cajoled
all by turns. But what
between craw[l]ing & dragging
he got out. But 2 on the
other side were in stuck tho[ugh]
one with great exertion
struggled out. But the other
struck fast on only up to
hip – We could not app[roach] him
for if we did we too were down.
We decided then to exort him
& our gaffer fumed and
cautioned him with his
scathing tongue but to no
effect. He comp[lained] that cramp
was in his leg – gaffer ask[ed]
him to whom he was was leav[in]g his
property incl[udin]g his watch! After
vain sugg[estions] we fell upon
mak[in]g a foot path of long
heather over the mud to
where he was – We hailed
men who were pul[ling] heath[er]
for ropes & they came & help[ed]
We made a road way
some 50 or 60 y[a]r[d]s long to where
he was – A bundle of heath[er] was
pla[ce]d upon he pla[ce]d his chest
& so extract[ed] himself out after
being 1 hour & 15 min[utes] in.
It was not too soon for
the tide was rushing in
to the pool. The man sunk?
the foot path of heath[er] had
nothin[g] on but his shirt & cap
We all cramed [sic]
to the water & going in up to
our hips washed off the mud.
After which we dried ourselves
In the sun in walk[in]g home.
weary & worn over the hills.
The heavy [heaviest] got fish was
7 lbs.

Reference:
CW109, f. 80r.
Image:
Timetable issued by Martin Orme.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [© carstenflieger.com]