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Guddicks: At the Ebb

Amy Lightfoot and Laurie Goodlad explore the significance of the ‘ebb’ in relation to fishing over the years in their book ‘Guddicks’.

There are few places in the world where every aspect of life was so heavily influenced by the moon and the tides. “The tide was an important factor in line fishing. The boats were carried with flowing water and the ebb-tide, and different tides suited different fishing areas … Most kinds of fish took best when the tide was moving strongly and least well in the slack between the tides. Tides, therefore, were of importance and every movement was observed carefully and added to the tale of experience.”[1]

Poetically brief, Teenie Garrick explained:

“The moon, the sea, the hill, the sheep and the folk, the whole lot are connected, because we’re part of the earth. The earth is governed by the stars and the moon; the ebb and flow depend upon the moon. When the moon is full you get a deep ebb, she’s fairly away. When she’s half-grown – that’s what you call half-tides – and if you get a storm when the moon is half-grown, the sea will not wash up over land half as far as with a full moon.”

Seaweed for fertilizer and fodder, driftwood and sometimes even treasure from foreign shores were washed ashore and set aside above the high water mark. Shellfish were gathered between high and low tides, and the intertidal zone was a playground for children.

Cockles, mussels, limpets and yoags [horse mussels] were used for bait:

“Just below the house … we gathered [cockles] for the lines…Folk used to drag up the yoags for the Burra fishermen, farther out along the shore where there were yoag beds” [Bobby Mowat].

Around 1900 selling bait could be lucrative; some people collected and sold bait to Hay & Company who then sold it on the Faroe smacks.

The book cites a time when the Balfour brothers, Tommy and Jeemie, once collected 70 barrels of bait between them from Lunnister, and got a pound a barrel. Seventy pounds for a winter’s work was a lot of money.

“They had a muckle fourareen about 14 feet to the keel, and it was said that the boat could carry ashore the fill of a barrel. They had a small winch and a draig [dredge] and a rope ashore. They would row off and heave her in until the draig was full. That was fine bait. They got the barrels and salt from Hay & Company, sent up with the steamer, and sent them back down full of yoags.” (Bobby Mowat).

While young girls could knit at an early age to earn pocket money, boys resorted to the ebb.

Information taken from Guddicks, Traditional Riddles from Shetland by Amy Lightfoot and Laurie Goodlad. The book is available to buy from The Shetland Times bookshop for £24.99.

[1] Fenton, Alexander, The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland.