THE FISHING AT FINDHORN
From the beginning of time coastal settlers evolved into a hardy breed of seafaring men struggling to make a living from the sea, and the fishermen of Findhorn were no exception. No records are available of the full progression from coracles to cobles, but it is an historical fact that in the 12th century, the monks of Kinloss Abbey held the salmon rights of the bay, and they are credited with building the Sturdy, a stone island used as a fishing point, strategically placed to catch the run of fish to and from the River Findhorn and the Moray Firth. The Sturdy is still visible at low tide, as are some of the remains of one of the earliest known methods of catching salmon, the Yaars, which consisted of erecting wicker fences at low tide and as the tide came in the fish swam over the fence to be trapped as the tide ebbed.
Although considered a secondary industry to coastal trading, fishing was of major importance to the village economy, employing up to 160 men. Because of the natural safe anchorage, unique along the north-east coast, herring drifters, yawls and Zulu sailboats used Findhorn as a base for both net and line fishing in the Moray Firth. Catches of herring and whitefish were landed on the shore, equally divided between the crews, then peddled around the immediate area by the fishwives, or alternately, as most fisher cottages had a tarred curing shed, converted to kippers in the case of herrings, or a famous local delicacy, speldings, dried haddock.
What remains of the traditional one-time thatched cottages can be seen in a stroll through the lanes and stripleys of the village; all have been modernised, and today it is difficult to believe that families of 6,7 or 8 were the norm and brought up in such limited space, and with few amenities. As for the families, time was measured by the flow and ebb of the tide, not the clock, and all members had their allotted share of the work load irrespective of the weather conditions.
The decline to the fishing
At the outset of the 1914-18 war, many of the herring fleet was beached in the bight at Elvin Point when the crews were called up for active service, and today the skeletal remains of those boats can still be seen on the foreshore. Others were beached around the harbour area to be broken up for firewood, and for Findhorn it was the beginning of the end. The slow decline of the whitefish industry began due to several unavoidable contributory factors, chiefly the unstoppable silting up of the bay by sand-drift from the Culbins, and the increasing difficulty of negotiating the sand bar at the estuary entrance caused by long-shore drift. The last locally owned yawls sailed in the early thirties by which steam power and engines had taken over from sail.
For some years after that boats, generally Scaffies and Fifies, from Burghhead, Hopeman and as far as Buckie, continued to call in to glean the huge mussel scaups in the bay. It was a tough job undertaken by men and women, the mussels being gathered by hand and carried in creels to the waiting boats, of when under water, a trawl was used to raise the mussels, a hard and difficult task. Later the mussels would be shelled and baited on the hundreds of hooks ready for the next day's expeditions.
Gradually, ancillary jobs in the village associated with fishing - boat building, sail-making, net barking, gutting and curing - waned, and apart from coble building, eventually disappeared.
However, there remained the commercial salmon fishing and in its hey-day Findhorn was the control centre of the Moray Firth Salmon Fishing Company which operated 22 netting stations dotted at intervals along the coast from Burghhead to Balintore, with crews of four or five men manning the bothies. A series of leader nets on upright poles projected seawards where a maze of netting made escape nearly impossible for the unwary fish. Flat-bottomed, shallow-draught, 24 foot long cobles were used to collect the salmon from the off-shore nets at suitable states of the tide, and records show that this method of fishing was very successful although predatory seals were a constant marauding enemy. Eventually the industry closed down in 1987.
Inside the bay a different system known locally as banging was used, with the fishing rights from early this century to the closure owned by C.R.Sellar and Company, and the buildings now occupied by Moray Water Sports were the bothies for the crews. Banging consisted of feeding out nets from the beach in a circular fashion in a smaller type of coble from stells, as the fishing points were known, and there were several around the bay but most used were the Glory Hole at the estuary mouth and the Sturdy already mentioned. The sweep of the encircling nets trapped the passing salmon on their way up or down stream, and again record show some amazing 'hauls'. A keen rivalry developed between boat crews for the biggest catches during the salmon fishing season, which lasted from the icy waters and sleety winds of February to the sunny balmy days of August. Holiday makers also took a great interest in watching the bangers at work and anticipating the catches.
All salmon fishers worked on a bonus system over and above their wages, which was paid out at the season's finish, the back-end as it was known, in August and in that month too, the annual regatta was usually held. The regatta was a family fun day held between the piers when keen competitiveness came to the fore in a series of coble races, boat tug-o-wars and other aquatic sports.
Throughout the fascinating history of the villages of Findhorn, and for that matter, their pre-histories, there have been many ups and downs, but the decline and fall of the fishing industry was unquestionably the end of an era. It was a way of life which regrettably ended in 1987.