The Herring Road

July 2011


The Herring Road
The Peter Potter Gallery
Until July 23

The herring fishery dominated Scotland's coastal towns for over a century until massive over- exploitation of this natural resource saw an irretrievable decline in the early and mid-twentieth century.

The herring industry has been  the subject of numerous literary and pictorial representations, the most famous of which is Neil Gunn's novel The Silver Darlings (1941) set on the Caithness coast in the mid-nineteenth century.

Hugh MacDiarmid's poem 'With the Herring Fishers', written when the poet was living on the island of Whalsay in Shetland in the late 1930s, conveys the essence of small resilient community in a primeval struggle with nature to secure a livelihood:

"I see herrin' "— I hear the glad cry
An 'gainst the mune see ilka blue jowl 
In turn as the fishermen haul on the nets 
And sing: "Come, shove in your heids and growl." 

"Soom on, bonnie herrin', soom on," they bawl, 
And "Come in, 0 come in, and see me," 
"Come and gi'e the auld man something to dae; 
It'll be a braw change frae the sea!" 

0 it's ane o' the bonniest sichts in the world 
To watch the herrin' come walkin' on board 
In the wee sma' 'oors o' a simmer's mornin' 
As if o' their ain accord! 

For this is the way that God sees life, 
The haill jing-bank o's appearin' 
Up owre frae the edge o' naethingness 
—It's His happy cries I'm hearin'. 

"Left, Right — O come in and see me," 
Reid and yellow and black and white, 
Toddlin' up into Heaven thegither 
At peep o' day frae the endless night! 

Below is unmediated publicity material from The Peter Potter Gallery documenting and publicising a fascinating project: The Herring Road - this is part of Lost Landscapes - an ambitious project by The Peter Potter Gallery that traverses boundaries between art, ecology, archaeology and local history.