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A day at Fethaland

Today we travelled back to a time when the men had to fish to the landlord during the summer months. Three miles north of North Roe, Fethaland is one of my favourite places in the entire world. The morning started out dark and ominous, but the skies cleared, and Kit and Ewan came by to drive us out. Randy and I rode in style in the back of the pickup truck, and as we climbed the hill above Isbister, we enjoyed panoramic views over all North Roe.

Fethaland holds a power difficult to explain… peaceful, but with echoes of the past. Up to 60 six-oared boats sailed 30-40 miles out to sea during the summer months, with 6 or 7 men in each one. Not all boats made it home. In 1857 my 3rd great grandfather, William Inkster, was at sea when a sudden gale arose. He and the rest of the crew were lost. It’s here at Fethaland where you can hear the men in their booths, preparing to go to sea, playing the fiddle, getting a few hours of rest between trips.

We wandered up to the Isle of Fethaland and saw more remains of the past… a soapstone quarry mined from the side of the hill goes back further even then the Norse arrival in 900 AD. You can still see the circle etchings where bowls were cut out, and where individuals have scratched their names for hundreds of years.

Looking north towards Fethaland.

Further on is a sea stack that, from time immemorial, the locals have called “Maggie Clark”. Who was she and who does she wait for as she looks out to sea? No one seems to know… her name is remembered, but her story forgotten.

We climbed up to the lighthouse… gulls seemed to float in the air, surfing the wind without flapping their wings. At sea are the Ramna Stacks, Gruney Isle, and Gruney Sound, where the strong tide had wrecked more than one boat. It is here during the gale of 1881 that skipper Isaac Gifford desperately tried to make for the east beach of Fethaland, but didn’t make it… all men were lost. His fishing lodge lay empty ever after.

Back to the beach for a picnic and then I set off to visit and photograph each merchant’s booth and lodge. They are slowing falling to the elements - powerful winds and seas. Yet, I can still imagine them there, weighing the fish, readying the lines and preparing the bait for the next journey into the unknown.


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