A life-long passion for The Solway’s rich tradition of haaf net fishing will be explored by fisherman Tony Turner next Tuesday evening (9th May), at Annan Old Parish Church Hall. Haaf netting has its roots in the Viking era, when Norsemen brought the craft to Scotland in 900 AD; the word ‘Haaf’ is Old Norse for ‘channel’ or ‘the sea’. A tradition steeped in folklore, the old stories tell that the length of a haaf beam was based on the length of the Viking longboat oar.
Kathleen Cronie, who is organising these events on behalf of Annan the History Town, tells us more:
“It’s a great pleasure to be welcoming Tony Turner to present a talk on the subject of haaf netting, a tradition that is specific to the inner Solway, and one that he has practiced over the best part of a lifetime. Tony’s talk continues a highly successful programme of local speakers, presenting on an array of historical themes, and we feel his personal story will offer a unique and captivating insight into an important part of Annan’s cultural heritage, that is sadly, on the wane.”
Consisting of a rectangular wooden frame made from a beam, to which the net is tied, the haaf net is divided into two pockets, known as ‘pokes’. The ‘mid-stick’ of three legs is then extended, which enables the fisherman to carry the beam and tip it up to catch the fish. The practice is different from many other types of fishing, as it requires the fisher to be present continuously, standing in the centre and holding the beam against the current and holding the net. Fishing is carried out in the latter stages of the ebb and beginnings of the flood tide. The flow of the current creates a bag of net at either side, where the fish swim into.
Tony moved to Annan from Manchester when he was fifteen and three years later, followed his father into haaf netting. At the time, his first licence cost five pounds. He had loved field sports from an early age and it felt like a natural progression. Tony vividly recalls his first glimpse of the nets:
“When I first came to Scotland and saw the Scottish side of the Solway I was astonished to see all the nets. There were stake nets, poke nets and of course the hand carried haaf nets. The poke net riggs reminded me of the fences and hedges of the Aintree steeplechase.”
Tony has many memorable encounters to reflect on from his decades at the nets, meeting some great local characters along the way. Tony recalls:
“When I first obtained my Annan licence I was persuaded by an old Annan haaf netter to continue fishing after midday on a Saturday. He said no one could see us because of the high banks. Unfortunately, my friend had not factored in that the boat carrying all the local dignitaries and council officials to their annual visit to the Altar Stane passed by us at about quarter past twelve. We just had to bluff it out and gave them cheery waves.”
And what is about haaf netting that has kept Tony gripped for the last fifty years? Tony explains:
“I have really enjoyed my years as a haaf netter. I love the comradeship and banter with other fishermen. I find being out on the shore to be highly relaxing. It is also a good way to get fit. It’s important to practise an ancient, heritable method of fishing, which should be defended and promoted and handed down to future generations. Haaf netting has important cultural significance not only to the people of Annan but also to the people of Scotland.”
Summing up, Kathleen said:
“We are very grateful to Tony for supporting the Annan talks programme, and look forward to what I feel will be a most insightful and entertaining presentation. Haaf netting is synonymous with The Solway, and is an integral part of the local culture and heritage. Thanks to Tony, and others like him, the tradition is being kept alive. We hope that Tony’s talk will help to breathe new life into the craft, raising awareness, and encouraging younger people to take up an interest, thus ensuring that new generations can keep the spirit of haaf netting alive.”
- Event Details – Tuesday 9th May at 7:30pm at Annan Old Parish Church Hall
- Free Event – Suggested Donation £3
- Photos of Tony Turner attached