Sunday, 2 December 2012

Stennes Fishing Station

THURSDAY October 25th: Bright with a mixture of sunny spells and scattered wintry showers. These will be turning more to snow through the day with some slight accumulations possible on the higher ground in Shetland later. A much colder day, with the risk of icy patches. F6-7 N to NW’ly winds increasing F7 to gale F8 later.

Sea State: Increasing rough, with a 3 to 4 metre NW to N’ly wind-swell by the evening.

Stennes Fishing Station 
Latitude/Longitude 60.47N 1.61W, HU 215 771

I climb the stile, walk past grazing sheep, and arrive on a stony shore. Birds wheel over a deep blue sea. The landscape is scattered with the remains of the old Haaf fishing station. 

Built in the 19th century the ruin of a trading booth, once a 2-storey, 3-bay gabled building storing the dried fish brought to shore by the sixereen crews, now stands roofless in the middle of the beach. Built of red sandstone and granite rubble, I have to bend to enter through the tiny doorway peering out through the slitted windows. There is a sense of abandonment here far more than at Fethaland. Maybe because the stone lodges  - once summer homes for fishermen – are in such a ruinous state. Lying spread out along the yellow-green turf above the beach, they have been left to tumble, at the mercy of storms battering the coast. On the far hillside stands a stone cross, a meid marking the way.

At its busiest, forty boats came and went from this bay. Old men and boys washed, salted, and dried the catch on the stones. I can just make out the faint indentations of the noosts that held sixareens.

Black cliff and agitated sea, white foam-tipped waves breaking turquoise crash onto dark rocks, spray rising high into the air. A bright cold sun in a cloud-filled blue sky, shafts of light - spotlights fanning a now steel grey sea. The far shore is lost in haze. On my journey here there was sleet. The sea heaves, its surface glittering. The wind is strong, the cold cutting through me. Five layers of clothes today, the chill still penetrating. I hunker down on the shore finding protection amongst large volcanic boulders.

Black pitted compressed stone laid out flat – a pavement of dark rock, flecked with bright orange-yellow patches of algae. A few seals hanging around, watching, and my first sea otter sighting, fifty yards away running amongst the rocks. I try to follow the small dark shape but it quickly disappears and I don’t see it again. Small birds calling at the edge of the water, flying up as waves break.

By the time I leave with wet paintings and drawing stored in my rucksack, my legs are stiff from kneeling on the cold rocks. The sky is heavy with layers of dark cloud. The rain returns.