This lovely book looks at the story of the fishing industry along the east coast of Scotland and in the Northern Isles. No-one who has visited Scotland's North Sea coast can have resisted the charms of the huge variety of ports and harbours that are scattered along the length of this side of the the country. And no-one who has ever talked to a grizzled old fisherman watching the activities of the diminishing number of remaining fishing boats in an east coast harbour can have failed to be impressed by stories of the time, not so very long ago, when this harbour or that harbour was so full of fishing boats that it was possible to walk across from one side to the other on boats without getting your feet wet.
Exaggeration? No, not really. Mike Smylie's "The Tweed to the Northern Isles, The Fishing Industry Through Time" is a marvellous evocation of a world that is fast disappearing, a world in which catching, processing and selling fish was absolutely critical to the economic viability of a large number of east coast settlements and of the people who lived and worked in them. Once upon a time, villages that might now mainly provide homes for commuters or cottages for holiday rentals were thriving communities in which everything revolved around fish and fishing.
Mike Smylie's book is divided into four sections. These look at "Fishing Ways"; "Fishing Boats"; "Fisher Folk"; and "Along the Coast". Each section is profusely illustrated with a wide variety of images of varying ages, each accompanied by a very full caption filling in the detail and setting out the background. Add in an introduction to the book as a whole and another to each of the sections, and the result is a beautifully balanced book that both tells you the story and shows it to you. We found ourselves particularly fascinated by photographs (and the occasional drawing or painting) showing how places have changed over the years. The picture of Helmsdale shown on page 92, for example, gives a clear impression of the fishing fleet clustered at the mouth of the River Helmsdale, but it gives an equally clear impression of the ruins of Helmsdale Castle, which were swept away to allow the building of a new bridge across the river in 1970.