Sharing aspects of Orkney's and Shetland's Maritime Cultures
Connecting maritime traces: A view from Shetland
Around the turn of the 21st century; this century, and having lain undetected for almost one hundred years in an abandoned croft house in Gord, Cunningsburgh, in Shetland’s South Mainland, a dressed stone slab appeared from the debris around the former household.
As the stone’s finder scraped the earth from its surface a beautifully carved cod fishing smack sailed into view. What was its history? Why was it there? Who might have carved it?
The houses of Gord look over the sheltered harbour of Aiths Voe on which, for hundreds of years, the maritime history of Cunningsburgh has been centred. To see photographs of sail drifters in Aiths Voe, taken at the beginning of the 20th century, during the time that the voe was home to the herring station, click here and here.
Had the carver of the stone gazed out over the fishing boats hauled up at the Aiths Voe fishing station? Was he a sailor just home from a trip on the boat so carefully carved. Does the stone recall a season spent at Faroe or Iceland hunting cod?
To listen to a recording of 94 year old Shetlander Robert Hardie, made in the mid 1970s, in which he recalls being a fifteen year old boy in a fishing smack going to the fishing at Faroe, click here.
What were the destinations the carver might have travelled to? Were they named on a ship’s crew list recording voyages made or were they a skipper with a Master’s certificate?
Had the carver of the Cunningsburgh slab seen similar graffiti on visits to other places?
Perhaps a special stone carving tool was to be found in the carver’s kit?
the carver’s way of depicting the beauty, art and history of a fishing vessel
rather than having a painting to hang on the wall?
Older now, in the 1950’s, would the carver have wandered down to Aiths Voe, observing significant features in the landscape and recalling the local traditional fishing meids that mark this landscape from the sea?
To listen to a recording of Charles Simpson and Dodo Watt speaking about fishing meids located around Shetland’s South Mainland click here.
Might the carver of the Cunningsburgh slab have lived to witnesse the lifting of the Oceanic lifeboat from the Aiths Voe boat shed that this historic boat had been stored in? Might they have helped to put this boat onto a cart and discussed her transportation to the Quee croft, there to be used as a boathouse?
Would the Cunningsburgh carver have kicked a foot through the seaweed on the rocks and thought to take a load home for their crops? The only sea borne debris they would have encountered at one time being a porcelain bottle top or a biodegradable coir rope?
Did the carver of the Ship graffiti, heading home, pass the hulk of the fishing boat Laurel lying on her side, waiting like a huge, beached whale to be carved up and her ribs used for fencing posts?
Did the carver’s mind drift to the feed of salt herring waiting at home, perhaps cured by a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a cousin, who had learned to gut locally caught fish, then going on to work at the gutting in Lerwick?
questions and more emerge when we look at the traces of our maritime cultures,
pasts, present and futures, connecting through people and place.
To view a film of Shetlander Pat Christie speaking about her knowledge of and passion for the maritime cultural environment of the shores close to Cunningsburgh click here.
Please cite New Connections Across the Northern Isles (2019) when referencing materials from this virtual museum.
Find out more
Visit the Cunningsburgh History Group web page by clicking here.
Visit the Westray Heritage Centre website by clicking here.
Visit the Shetland Museum and Archives website by clicking here.
To find out more about meids visit Shetland Place Names by clicking here.