Thursday, 31 January 2013

Sandness Fishing Station

Monday, 12th November 2012

WEATHER OUTLOOK: Becoming wet and windy. Tonight: Some rain. Lighter winds.

Sandness Fishing Station
Latitude/Longitude: 60.3042°N 1.6644°W
HU 187 578
Aerial view
I’ve been driving back and forth along Sandness coast trying to locate the site of the old Haaf fishing station. There are several beaches – some just sand - I reject these and finally settle on a stone-strewn beach with the remnants of an old pier and a few stone buildings. The light is starting to go and I need to make a decision or give up. Out to sea, the bay is well protected by the long flat grass-topped islands either side, the stone beach would be fine for drying fish, and it would be easy to pull the boats from the shore across the grey sand pebbled beach and onto the grass bank. No sign of noosts or fishing lodges; perhaps one of the old stone buildings might have been a fishing station.

Studying the landscape, roofless croft-house ruins are dotted along the headland. I wish I could read the landscape – pitted and worked, stones lie in heaps, some tall and solitary. A signpost shows coastal walks either way, left to the site of old water mills. There has been habitation here for a very long time. Beside the pier piles of large rocks lie dark with wet seaweed.

The journey here, along a narrow road, winding through empty brown moorland, makes the place seem remote, but there must be a reasonable sized population. I passed a shop and a school, a scattering of quite large houses - old and new - as well as the traditional ‘butt and bens’, and there’s the Anderson Mill, here since the 1890’s. Specialising in wool spun from native Shetland sheep, they must employ a local workforce to make the jumpers that are shipped to Japan and America.

Perhaps I feel the solitude of the place because it’s beginning to get dark as I walk onto the beach. There is a keen wind blowing. I seek shelter down amongst the larger boulders against a turf bank, and watch the sea.

Sketch, Oil on board
Low-lying outcrops of rocks in grey-green sea, waves surging behind, breaking white-washed; flashes of turquoise, sand-coloured as it tumbles onto the shore. The surface ruffles with wind gusts, shadows flow - dark then light. There are the usual watchful seals, two dipping under, rolling, surfacing. Not much bird life in evidence, an unseen snipe calling.

Sketch, Oil on board
Steel-grey sky, the rain comes and goes, returning more persistently. Twilight; straining to see; once again I can’t make out the colours I’m using anymore. But in some ways these are the best times for painting. Car headlights sweep past me, house lights at the far end of the bay. It’s cold. Time to pack up, time to go home. Tomorrow I leave to start the return journey to Somerset.  

Water sample and findings

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Long Ayre Fishing Station, Out Skerries

SATURDAY November 10th 

With kind permission of Anne Karin Magnussen, Met Inst, Norway
Bright with sunny intervals and occasional showers, most likely over Shetland. A fresh to strong F5-6 S’ly wind veering W’ly later. 

Sea State: Rough to very rough becoming moderate to rough from the west later, with a 3 to 5 metre S to SW’ly wind-swell turning NW’ly and easing 2 to 3 metres.

Long Ayre Fishing Station, Out Skerries
Latitude 60.4167N, Longitude .7667W
HU 693 72

Leaving my car at Vidlin harbour I lug my rucksack full of painting gear on board the tiny Out Skerries ferry and watch the cars being strapped to the deck. Unlike my last trip out here when I was told that we might not get back that night, the ferry journey is relatively calm, rougher as we leave land and head east to open sea. I watch the waves washing out to reach the far shores. Land receding, we loose sight of the mainland.

Arrival on Out Skerries is via the cliff fringed north shore, through an impossibly narrow gap in the cliffs, and we dock in Böd Voe harbour.

I’m met by a smiling Bertha Anderson, who gives me a big hug me and whisks us back to her house for tea, toast and gossip. Talking to one of the ferry workers I’ve learned that there are at least seven haaf fishing stations here and wonder whether I’m going to be able to get to any, since at least one is on the far east side and I don’t have time to get that far. However Bertha sorts me out and drives me to the airstrip. ‘Walk down the runway and through the gate at the end on your left” she instructs. I dutifully follow her directions and trot off along the rough gravel landing strip (no planes today), to find myself at one end of Long Ayre, a small sheltered bay on Bruray.

A remarkably clean smooth stone beach gently curving to my left. I walk its length, passing stone piles - the remains of other lodge sites that once lined the banks. At the far end lies a haaf fishing lodge, the roof long fallen in (I’m told it has been used as a hen house – clearly not that recently). 

The sound of the constant wind. Blue cloud-filled sky. Bright sunlight on green-fringed hills, a lighthouse perched on one, along with a ruin of a square shaped tower or perhaps a house, it’s difficult to tell from here.

On the beach, coils of slippery dark seaweed lie in heaps amongst bladder-wracked boulders, still wet from the receding tide. I find an old piece of circular metal amongst stone and weed, and trace the decorative worn surface – treasure. I watch a few cormorants hurry across the water, flying close to the surface. Above, the flap of an occasional gull.

Every so often the spray of large breaking waves appears between the two hills on the far side of the bay, beckoning; I would love to be over there, but conscious of time and purpose, I set my rucksack on the grass bank and start to paint rapidly  - four small boards worth - before it’s time to walk back along the airfield.

Oil paintings on board
The sea changes colour as wind pushes the clouds, ripples multiplying across its surface – dark blue-grey, then lighter with pale green patches, sun dancing yellow on sparkling sea. The hills behind are ranged with standing stones – meids for the fishing, or perhaps even older. The voe is tucked well inside the northeast mouth; open sea lying beyond the protective arms of the headlands – Outer Bloshin on one side, Inner Croagle on the other.

Met by Bertha, I'm bundled back into the car and off to her kitchen for leek and potato soup. Now warm - both inside and out - I’m ready for the ninety-minute ferry ride back.  

It’s getting dark as we leave the harbour, huge clouds mass on the horizon, an orange sky, the sun disappearing fast behind receding islands - more interesting light for drawing now.

Once we’re further out to sea there’s a bigger swell, waves fanning out behind, spindrift catching the wind.

The ferry dips; I make some fast drawings, cold spray hits my back as I steady myself against the railings clutching my sketchbook. 

Sketchbook drawings

I stare defiantly at a sign instructing all passengers to remain in the saloon. I’m the only one on deck, the few passengers either obediently inside, or within their tightly strapped-down vehicles.

Night now, gulls in our wake, lights of the mainland appear. The sea silky smooth as we enter the narrow fjord of Vidlin Voe and dock in a blaze of light. With a wave to the ferrymen I walk back to my car, still slightly swaying.

Water sample and findings