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TITLE
A Traveller's Tale - Pearl Fishing & Whelk Gathering
EXTERNAL ID
GB1796_TRAVELLER_INTERVIEW_03
PLACENAME
N/A
DATE OF IMAGE
2003
PERIOD
2000s
SOURCE
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
ASSET ID
11717
KEYWORDS
travelling folk
travellers
pearl fishers
whelks
A Traveller's Tale - Pearl Fishing & Whelk Gathering

In 2003 Inverness Museum & Art Gallery held an exhibition on travelling people. To help with the research for the exhibition, Willie, a traveller, took part in an interesting and very informative oral history interview. Here, he talks about pearl fishing and whelk gathering. (The image shows a typical traveller's camp from around 1920-1940)

How did you go about pearl fishing?

Well, they banned that now, eh? They banned it, yeah. They've been pearl fishin since the Roman times in Scotland, eh? Ma father was a pearl fisher; he pearl fished all his life, ma grandfather, doon the generation. All the travellers used tae do it once time ago. Well, ye've got the River Spey, the biggest - it's a good river. Ye've got the Conon, the Beauly; Ye've got a lot o rivers in Scotland! Some o them travellers, wouldn't tell the other travellers! Ye jist get a bucket an pit a glass in the bottom. Pit yer waders on, get tae the river, look through the bottom - the glass. Ye see yer mussel sittin. Ye've got yer special stick an ye - the mussel sits, ye pull it up fae the bottom on their berth. Ye used tae kill them ye know. The last ten years ye've got a special tool jist tae open them.

Ye've got what ye called a straight ones, an ye've got what ye called a twisted one; that'd be maybe eight outta ten the twisted ones that had the pearls in them. They were what ye called misshaped, room for the pearl to grow - they were the ones. Ah remember it when Ah was young - likes o the River Spey an that there - used tae see the, aw the McMillans, maybe twenty to thirty little bow tents. Oh, oh, used to be sixty, seventy pearl fishers every summer up there; their little outside fires an their little cans, jist, small bow tents, eh? A happy way o life. I enjoyed it when I was young but as I say they banned it now completely because the rivers was supposed to be over fished. It wisnae - there was only maybe four pearl fishers in the whole of Scotland an they blamed the pearl fishers for that. It's mostly pollution; these big estates, Ah found it these last ten years, these from down south that come up and buy the big estates jist didn't want the pearl fishers on the rivers. Disturb the salmon, ye see?

Do you want to talk about getting the whelks?

Ach, ye talk aboot the wulks, eh? A lot o travellers get the wulks. Jist eh, when the tide was out, jist pick them off the rocks. Sell them in the bags. That's it, not a lot. There's a lot o travellers do that now. Oh, they're heavy. It was good at one time, not so long ago, as I say, the country wasn't so bad. The travellers used tae do work, door to door work, likes o' roofin an trees. All that's comin to an end now, ye see? So ye've got, they're all back doin the winkles. There's not a lot o shoreline now. Maybe five year ago ye didnae see a lot o them doin it, but the way the country's goin it's jist, it's gettin harder, eh? They're no bad tae eat, the wulks.

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A Traveller's Tale - Pearl Fishing & Whelk Gathering

2000s

travelling folk; travellers; pearl fishers; whelks

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

A Traveller's Tale

In 2003 Inverness Museum & Art Gallery held an exhibition on travelling people. To help with the research for the exhibition, Willie, a traveller, took part in an interesting and very informative oral history interview. Here, he talks about pearl fishing and whelk gathering. (The image shows a typical traveller's camp from around 1920-1940)<br /> <br /> How did you go about pearl fishing?<br /> <br /> Well, they banned that now, eh? They banned it, yeah. They've been pearl fishin since the Roman times in Scotland, eh? Ma father was a pearl fisher; he pearl fished all his life, ma grandfather, doon the generation. All the travellers used tae do it once time ago. Well, ye've got the River Spey, the biggest - it's a good river. Ye've got the Conon, the Beauly; Ye've got a lot o rivers in Scotland! Some o them travellers, wouldn't tell the other travellers! Ye jist get a bucket an pit a glass in the bottom. Pit yer waders on, get tae the river, look through the bottom - the glass. Ye see yer mussel sittin. Ye've got yer special stick an ye - the mussel sits, ye pull it up fae the bottom on their berth. Ye used tae kill them ye know. The last ten years ye've got a special tool jist tae open them. <br /> <br /> Ye've got what ye called a straight ones, an ye've got what ye called a twisted one; that'd be maybe eight outta ten the twisted ones that had the pearls in them. They were what ye called misshaped, room for the pearl to grow - they were the ones. Ah remember it when Ah was young - likes o the River Spey an that there - used tae see the, aw the McMillans, maybe twenty to thirty little bow tents. Oh, oh, used to be sixty, seventy pearl fishers every summer up there; their little outside fires an their little cans, jist, small bow tents, eh? A happy way o life. I enjoyed it when I was young but as I say they banned it now completely because the rivers was supposed to be over fished. It wisnae - there was only maybe four pearl fishers in the whole of Scotland an they blamed the pearl fishers for that. It's mostly pollution; these big estates, Ah found it these last ten years, these from down south that come up and buy the big estates jist didn't want the pearl fishers on the rivers. Disturb the salmon, ye see?<br /> <br /> Do you want to talk about getting the whelks?<br /> <br /> Ach, ye talk aboot the wulks, eh? A lot o travellers get the wulks. Jist eh, when the tide was out, jist pick them off the rocks. Sell them in the bags. That's it, not a lot. There's a lot o travellers do that now. Oh, they're heavy. It was good at one time, not so long ago, as I say, the country wasn't so bad. The travellers used tae do work, door to door work, likes o' roofin an trees. All that's comin to an end now, ye see? So ye've got, they're all back doin the winkles. There's not a lot o shoreline now. Maybe five year ago ye didnae see a lot o them doin it, but the way the country's goin it's jist, it's gettin harder, eh? They're no bad tae eat, the wulks.