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The Great Herring Disaster Memorial

The North East Coast is dotted with fishing villages, which have had fluctuating fortunes over the years. Today they are popular holiday destinations, with many a former fisherman’s cottage renovated into an expensive holiday property. Small commercial fishing boats remain, especially in the larger ports, along with pleasure craft, but the former herring industry , formerly a major employer, has all but disappeared.

Over the Scottish border in Berwickshire, the herring industry was virtually destroyed overnight. On 14th October 1881 the fleet set out in calm waters. Following a week of stormy weather when they couldn’t sail, money was tight and bait was beginning to rot so the fishermen were anxious to work, even though the barometric pressure was very low.

The wind changed and a hurricane force storm blew up. Fishing lines were abandoned and the ships raced home but only a handful made it to port. The rest of the fleet was not so lucky. Some boats were smashed on the rocks nearby, others capsized. The families of the fishermen looked on in horror, powerless to help. 189 lives were lost, leaving 78 widows and 182 fatherless children.

A series of four sculptures by Jill Watson were dedicated in 2016, on the anniversary of the storm, to commemorate the disaster. They depict the widows and bairns of the stricken fishermen looking out to sea overlooking the harbours of four fishing communities on the Berwickshire coast.

The northernmost of the artworks is in Cove, which lies north of St Abbs and south of the Torness nuclear power station. The village is tiny, situated at the top of the cliff. The harbour is privately owned, accessed by a steep gated path, which goes through a tunnel in the headland to the reach beach and harbour. Cellars leading off the tunnel, were once used to store fish but are now sealed off for safety. The landowners request that photos of the harbour are not published to maintain the unspoilt character of the place, but here you can just make out the buildings at the edge of the hidden bay and harbour.

A barometer stands set into a rock at the corner of Cove car park. This was restored and resited there in the 1990s. The plaque indicated that this was presented around 1861, predating the fishing disaster. There is a cruel irony that this provided the means to predict the fatal storm.

The bronze cast sculpture overlooks the sea as the wives and children of the fishermen did. The adult figures stand about 20cm high. Each one represents a real person , the families of the 11 men of Cove who were lost that night.

The next sculpture is in St Abbs. This attractive village is popular with divers, both for its abundant marine life and the wrecks offshore.

The road leads down the hill to the harbour car park but the sculpture is at the top, again overlooking the harbour.

Moving south to Eyemouth there is a much larger artwork in the series, appropriate to the size of this small town and that it suffered the greatest loss of life in the storm of 1881: 129 of the 189 who died. This represented some 10% of the male population and there are more figures depicted here to represent larger numbers of family members affected.

Looking closely at the figures, the detail is quite remarkable. Some look out to sea, others’ faces are contorted with grief.

Some of the women battle with their shawls as they are caught by the wind.

Some have babes in arms and try to comfort their children or each other. Still others pray.

Though most of the figures stare out to sea, at the back of the sculpture the detail is still as perfect. A pair of women hug to console each other.

Confused tiny children are comforted by an older sibling..

It is incredibly moving, a perfect memorial not just to the fishermen who died but the families who suffered as a result of that loss. An appeal raised a large sum to support the widows and children, the equivalent of over £4m in today’s money. Queen Victoria was one of the contributors.

The final sculpture is at Burnmouth. The village sits at the foot of cliffs down a precipitous road.

The artwork is on the harbour wall.

This small village lost 24 men in the storm, a huge loss for such a small village.

I’m glad to have seen all four pieces, which are a credit to the artist and make a truly poignant memorial to those lost on that fateful October day.ove

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Wildflower of the Week: Primrose

The primrose (Primula vulgaris) is my favourite sign of Spring and the last of the flowers are now beginning to fade as Summer approaches.

This perennial plant is native throughout Europe and can be found in woodland, under hedges and on steep road verges. Though the flowers may appear as early as December in milder areas, in most places they flower from February/March to May.

The pale lemon yellow flowers are 2-3cm in diameter and each has five notched petals.and deeper yellow centres. The flowers are carried singly on hairy stems above a rosette of oval leaves, wrinkled and heavily veined, each leaf up to 30cm long. The flower gives way to a capsule containing many small brown seeds. These require a cold spell to stimulate germination.

The nectar of the primrose is a valuable food source for long-tongued insects like butterflies, including emerging hibernating small tortoiseshells. It is also the food plant for the caterpillars of the rare Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly.

The name primrose is derived from the Latin prima rosa: first rose, as an early Spring flower. Other names include Lent rose, butter rose,Easter rose, though not a member of the rose family at all. In folklore the flower was associated with fairies. A patch of primroses marks a portal into the fairy realm. Placed on a doorstep the flowers bring a fairy blessing. Druids used primroses for protection from evil during rituals. A primrose garland would be placed on the body of a young woman who had died ‘in the springtime in her life” . Primroses would also be used to decorate the bed of newly weds, probably because of the association with, Spring, new life and fertility.

The name Butter Rose may come from an old practice of rubbing the flowers on cows’ udders to ensure good butter production from the milk. A poor show of primroses was said to be a sign that hens would lay fewer eggs.

Thomas Culpeper, the 17C herbalist, recommended primrose for its wound healing properties. It has also been used to treat gout, rheumatism, paralysis, toothache and skin problems.

Queen Victoria was said to have sent primroses to her Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli regularly. On Primrose Day, April 19th, the flowers are placed on his grave and on the statue of him in Westminster Abbey.

It remains one of my favourite wildflowers and a true harbinger of Spring

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Cocktail Time

A couple of weeks back, K and I had another trip to Edinburgh. We were celebrating 40 years since we first got together. We took the train and checked into our favourite hotel, Tigerlily, where we got upgraded to a beautiful suite – this has happened before, but it’s always a lovely surprise. We had booked a table in the restaurant, but made time for a cocktail before dinner.

Tigerlily has always served great cocktails so trying some is part of the fun of staying there. In fact if I post a photo of a cocktail on Facebook with the question “Where am I?” all my friends immediately guess correctly. In the years we’ve been going there we’ve always enjoyed sitting up at the bar so we can watch the bar staff prepare the drinks. Of course sometimes it’s pure theatre. They don’t indulge in cocktail shaker juggling here, but bending a piece of orange peel next to a lighter flame so the oil sprays out, ignites and flares: that can look pretty spectacular.

For my pre-dinner drink I chose my favourite cocktail – a classic Cosmopolitan. If you’ve never tried one it’s a fruity sweet/sour combination of vodka, triple sec, cranberry and lime – I love it.

After dinner we were back for more. This time I opted for Pixie Dust, a combination of raspberry and rhubarb gin, wild strawberry, lemon juice and egg white. K had a cocktail too.

He’s a whisky man and sampled a Black Sesame Old Fashioned, served over ice, in this case one huge block of it

Next, Lemon Drizzle Flora Dora: a long drink comprising lemon drizzle gin, lime, ginger and raspberry.

My final drink of the night was the Frozen Raspberry Charlie Chaplin, a gorgeous slushy mix of raspberry gin, apricot, raspberry and lemon.

The following evening we found a little Mexican restaurant and I was still in cocktail mood so it had to be a frozen margarita. I got to thinking that I should get the cocktail shaker out at home, Friday night cocktails anyone?

What’s your favourite cocktail?

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The Bird Boxes Arriving on Platform 2

We had a little overnight trip to Edinburgh last weekend. Our train was delayed for about half an hour so we spent more time waiting on the platform at our local station, Alnmouth, than we would have done normally.

I noticed that some brightly coloured bird boxes have been put up on the fences that run along the side of the platform.

I’m not sure who put them there. Maybe it’s a project by a local school.

All the boxes are painted in different colours and designs.

In the short time I was there didn’t see any birds using them, but I hope they do.

They certainly add a bit of colour to the station, and what a lovely way to encourage our nesting birds.

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Knit and Natter Round Up: April

Over the last month the group have been busy making all sorts of items.

R completed a cardigan in a beautiful patterned yarn in pale blue, fawn and white.

Y made an amazing pink cabled sweater and some trainer socks.

She’s currently crocheting flower hexagons which will be joined up to make a very cute triceratops toy like the one in the picture!

With her first grandchild due later this year, A is busy making baby clothes in a range of colours and white.

Last month L completed her sweet pea blanket. She’s using the left over yarn to make another smaller blanket.

She’s also making a cardigan for her granddaughter, made in one piece, which alternates rows of white with a rainbow of colours

C is working on a blanket for her dog. He’s a very lucky boy!

I’ve been continuing with a cardigan in dark brown Suri alpaca and some alpaca socks

I wonder what the group will be working on next month.