Haaf netters on the Solway Firth

The haaf net fishermen of the Solway Firth know the shape of the estuary bed. They know where to put their feet, where to stand. Each part of the bed has a name and an understanding. Standing points are marked by piles of stones, a bit like the cairns found on top of mountains and they mark the underwater topography. At low tide these stone piles appear.

The men, and it’s nearly always men, decide who will stand where in the river, using dominoes flipped in the hand of a chosen man. Often the fishermen will arrive just in time for the tide, racing from their jobs or between doing different chores, they’ll sneak away to fish. The clock is important to the fishermen, they know the time of day by the tides, in this sense they have more in common with sailors than the anglers found further inland.

One of the older men who’d been haaf netting all his life told me he also collected pocket watches as a hobby. He talked to me in detail about the refined internal mechanisms of these antique watches whilst chest deep in the cool weight of the firth. About a mile away on shore stood the radio transmitting towers of Anthorn radio station, its from here they regulate the atomic clock. Tall, spindly and fragile amongst the crops, like a crown dropped in a field. Feeling the tide push past us, it was as though at once there were many clocks ticking. The regulating rhythm of the tides going in and out, the salmon making their migration around our bodies, the atomic clock and the pocket watches of the collector. They were all ticking and the water was getting deeper.