Kinlochbervie, the most northerly port on the west coast of Scotland is 12 miles from Cape Wrath and 50 miles from a railway. At the end of the Second World War it was as depressed an area as could be found in Great Britain. Crofting did not provide a complete livelihood for the men, who were faced with leaving home to get any sort of job.
By the end of 1947, the inshore fishing fleet of North East Scotland had been obliged to leave the fished-out grounds of the North Sea and go further west. Kinlochbervie saw its opportunity and, despite all handicaps, made itself into a fishing port.
The story is told in this set of pictures.
With the opening of Kinlochbervie has come a new fish-handling port near the fishing grounds off the North West of Scotland. Seine net boats now using the quay save themselves eight to ten hours’ steaming to Scrabster, the nearest long-established landing point.
The County Council’s pier is on Loch Clash, a small inlet north of Loch Inchard. During the early months of the port’s use no leading lights were provided for navigators. Fishing boats played a risky game of follow-my-leader among the rocky islets studding the coastline.
During the three months August-October 1948, 5,237 cwts of white fish were landed in 150 recorded arrivals. Most of the boats came from the east coast of Scotland and worked for months at a time from Kinlochbervie. Since the port opened, white fish landings have averaged some £1,000 a week. Herrings worth £12,000 came ashore during summer and early autumn, all landings being disposed of by about a dozen local merchants. To encourage herring landings the village guaranteed a team of 15 local women daily to gut the fish, most of which were salted and sent to North West Europe.
‘Faithful’, an east coast vessel, registered at Banff on the Moray Firth, unloads her catch at Kinlochbervie. Her crew take turns to have occasional weekends at home, travelling 50 miles by road and then over 100 miles by train. The journey often takes well over 12 hours.
White fish is unloaded in boxes provided by the fish salesmen, and filled as the catch is gutted at sea. Unloading takes 30/40 minutes, the winches being driven by a shaft from the main engines.
Fish are weighed on the quay, stacked by types, and allocated to the buyers present by a Fish Allocation Officer of the Ministry of Food. On his returns are based the surcharges payable by the fish distribution industry. Kinlochbervie is on the Ministry’s list of ‘specified ports’, which means that transport charges on fish to the next point of distribution are paid by the Government.
During the short winter days much of the fish-buyer’s work is conducted around a lantern on the quayside.
Skipper William Alexander Walker (‘Goodwill’, out of Macduff) comes ashore at Kinlochbervie. It is 55 years since he was last in this area – which is indicative of the rest from fishing these north western grounds have had. A kindly, God-fearing Plymouth Brother, he complains loudly about the constantly rising price of gear. Rope alone, he explains, has gone up eight-fold on pre-war prices.
Now there is money in Kinlochbervie. The usual drink is whisky followed by beer. Deckhands on the seine net boats, of which an increasing number have local crews, can earn as much as £20 in a good week’s work. Their pay is entirely on the share system, there being no standing wage. The local bar is crowded on Saturday evenings. Closing time is 9pm and there is no Sabbath drinking. Nor would any skipper think of going to sea on a Sunday.
All land transport to Kinlochbervie comes by road. The daily fish lorry making its 50 miles haul to the railhead at Lairg, ploughs up the rough surface in wet weather. Passing is always a problem.
The folk of Kinlochbervie were quick to realise that their future depended on their roads being usable. They were offered £12,000 for the improvement of Rural District roads if they would provide £1,000 themselves. They might as well have asked for a million – until someone thought of everyone employed subscribing 5% of the wages he drew for the job to cover the village’s share in the cost. The scheme is working. These men are making an access road to the sea from the community of Oldshoremore.
The mail bus is the only public transport between Kinlochbervie and the rest of the world. Passengers ride in the front, freight and mails in the back. The bus makes the 100 miles return journey to Lairg every day except Sunday. The driver offloads mails at collection points along the route.