Fish Boat



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Poetry & Prose

In this section we will incude a wide range of material: the writing of poets who have been influenced by the fishing industry (George Mackay Brown, Isobel M Harrison, Peter Smith, and so on); folk tales, legends, myths, rhymes, and anything else that may fall into this category. As with all the other topics we would love to hear from you with suggestions and examples.


Isabel M Harrison, the daughter of a fisherman, grew up in Buckie. After many years of living in Norfolk, she has now returned to Buckie. Her poetry is written in the local dialect and as such gives a flavour of life in a Scottish fishing town in the 1930s to the late twentieth century. The following example is from Isobel's book, "...that's fit I can mine: growing up in Buckie in the 1930s":

Click here to download

an MP3 audio file
of Isabel Harrison
reading this poem.
(File size 738KB)

To Mrs Janet Bowie and the fisher quines o Buckie

They eest tae bark the nets an tar the booie ropes tae,
aside the auld gashoose far a new hoose stans the day.
Syne the pailins wid hae nets hingin like moss fae Southern oak tree,
wi the corks paintit different colours, sae easy tae spot an see.

Thir wis aye crews o weemin, that gied oot tae men the nets,
wi thir ain favourite needles, wir expert at fullin in holey bits.
Near ivery hoose hid a net laft, an a room up the stairs.
It wis used fur checkin nets an makin ony repairs.

Fin the Drifters left fur Yarmouth it wis a really excitin day,
seein the funnels belchin smoke as they sailt oot alang the bay.
The guttin crews wid ging awa tae be ready fur the boats tae land,
they'd hae tae git ready thir gear an tie clooties on thir han.

Coopers wir aye ready wi thir crews tae gut, pack and saat the catch.
Ivery barrel packit tae perfection, they wir truly amazin tae watch.
They leyert ivery barrel wi heerin, wi fingers stingin an sair,
the howks dirlin we saat bree, thir wis nae protective gloves tae wear.

Loaf wis chawed and stappit in the deep cuts that wis sair,
mair clean clooties pitten oin coverin ony bits that wis bare.
Then wi a shawlie on thir heids they awa doon tae the Denes,
tae spen a lang day kyavin wi quines that wir thir freens.

The tunes thay sang, as they workit, wir thir hymns that they a kent,
mony a shoor o snaw or hail fell afore their lang day wis spent.
Fullin the heerin barrels, and fur just tenpence atween three,
and fourpence an oor wis fit they got, foo iver much they quid dee!

The kirk they aye uset wis aye packit, and they say the rafters rang
wi a wealth o bony music, fin the fishermen an weemin sang.
They made thir ain entertainment an hid a hall far they quid dance,
an the Yarmooth fishin wis responsible fur mony a life-lang romance!


During the 1970s Stephen Friend spent time talking to elderly fishermen in Grimsby, Yarmouth, Gorleston, Lowestoft and other fishing ports. I was especially impressed with a number of rhymes they told me. Sadly I did not record many of these, and I now only remember snippits. I was told that in the days before education became the norm for all youngsters (pre-1870), many of the fishing apprentices would learn rhymes to help them remember important things, such as where the lighthouses were along the coast. Inevitably these remained part of fishing oral history well into the Twentieth century. One such ryhme went:

First the Dungen
Then the Spurn,
Flamborough Head comes next on turn;
Scarborough Castle lies in a light,
Whitby High-light shining bright;
If all goes well, and holds tight,
We'll be in canny old Shields tonight.

Our thanks to Jim Haxby and Capt. Tom Hall of Filey, North Yorkshire, for completing this rhyme.

Can anyone complete this? And perhaps let us know of other rhymes.

A number of rhymes were published in 1927 in the "Fisherman's Handy Billy" under the heading "Rules of the Road". They include the following:

Two Steamships Meeting

When all three Lights you see ahead -
Port your helm and show your Red.

Two Steamships Passing

Green to Green, or Red to Red,
Perfect safety - Go ahead!

All Ships must keep a good look-out, and Steamships must stop and go astern if necessary.

Both in safety and in doubt,
Always keep a good look-out;
In danger, with no room to turn,
Ease her - Stop her - Go astern.