The Cellardyke Echo – 12/10/2023 – Issue 410



A Memorable Morning at Anstruther

The Rite of the “Bakes”

Mrs Rowlands’ shop at Cellardyke harbour, with the Manx Fairy being built in the foreground

Cellardyke Six a.m. and a fine autumn morning. A faint foreshadowing of dawn is in the sky; a keen “caller wind blows from the sea, which as yet rolls darkly under dusky clouds; the “May Light” blinks monotonously as if weary of its long night’s vigil; cheerful window lights and shadows moving across the brightness proclaim that the town has already wakened to activity.

Along the narrow streets speed hurrying footsteps, some heavy and regular, others quick and uncertain, all going in the same direction “wast to Anster.”

At this hour of the morning the little town presents a “Monday morning” appearance, and seems resentful of this unusual disturbance and reluctant to emerge from its Sabbath calm into weekday bustle. Little lights gleam windows of bakers’ shops, through the lighted doorways of which glide hurrying figures carrying in their gathered aprons something which suggests “baps for the breakfast.”

As we approach the quay, signs of activity become more pronounced, and on proceeding down the busy pier, the “caller” wind blows keener, and the lowering morning sky causes many to prophesy rain.

Threatening showers and cold breezes are, however, soon forgotten, for we are now in the midst of the laughing, jolly crowd who have come ” doon tae see the boats gaun aff tae Yarmouth.”

Side by side and bow to stern they lie, smoke already ascending lazily from their funnels. In the surrounding atmosphere there lingers a hot pungent smell redolent of engines.

The “Bakes”

At the quay side are gathered little groups of relatives, friends, and interested spectators. Merry talk and laughter abound as greetings and farewells are exchanged.

“Been gettin’ a drap engine ile, Tam?” slyly queries a bystander, as visitor slips cautiously from the direction of a boat’s cabin.

“Aye,” was the reply, and with a meaning glance at his questioner, “There’s a drap left in the ‘ poorie ‘ yet.”

The skippers of the various vessels have now arrived, and with looks expressing a consciousness of their responsibility, board their respective drifters.

Excitement now runs high, the great event of the morning approaches as members of the crews appear with boxes or bags filled with ship’s biscuits or “bakes.” which they distribute with lavish hands among the sightseers.

It is considered strict etiquette to accept the proffered “bakes”; to refuse would not only be breach of good manners, but would also “bring bad luck tae the boat.”

“Tak’ up a’ thae bits,” shoutsa  commanding female voice, as the owner points to some fragments still remaining in a box.

A shrug of the shoulders and a toss of the head is the only reply, as one of the younger members of the company deliberately turns her back on the box and its contents.

“A weel, if ye’re sae prood an’ mimmoo’d, yer mither’ll tak’ them, ma lass,” retorts the speaker, as she promptly empties the fragments into the capacious bag purposely brought for the “bakes.”

In the Cabin

A tall, blue-jerseyed fisherman now appears on the deck of one of the nearest vessels, and making a megaphone of his two hands, roars through them in stentorian tones. “A’ the weemen are wanted doon here.”

“Wha’s gaun first?” the female portion of the crowd gaze a little shyly at each other, and for a few seconds no one makes amove.

“A weel, I’m gaun, come wha likes,” shouts one brisk dame as she ‘ loups ‘ actively aboard the boat. With much screaming and laughter, other bold spirits follow suit, although many are glad of the aid of strong masculine hands to aid in their descent from the pier to the drifter.

A short tour of inspection of the ship deck is made, and a hasty glance cast into the cook’s galley. An invitation to “gang doon and see the engine is hastily refused after a look at the perpendicular stair leading to the interior of the vessel.

Sounds of revelry are heard from below, and the skipper’s loud tones demanding “Whaur are ye?” lead you to descend slowly and fearfully, groping your way down the ladder, at the bottom of which is the entrance to the cabin, now filled with a hilarious gathering.

According to time-honoured custom, you ” toast the boat,” expressing your wish for a safe journey and ” a guid fishin’,” and with a sigh of relief, for it is hot downstairs, you creep cannily to the “upper air.”

The Clang of Engines

After farewells, the pier is once more reached, and a move is made for a coign of vantage from which to observe the initial stages of the drifters’ departure.

As we observe the congestion of the vessels in the small harbour, we wonder how they can be manoeuvred out into the open safety.

The clang of engines now fills the air, as one boat slowly moves out of its position. Orders are shouted, and the crew rushes backwards and forwards hauling mysterious ropes. Now we perceive the use of those pieces of wood called ” fenders,” which are slung over the sides of the boat to prevent her grating either against the pier or the side of another vessel.

” Ease ‘er aff,” shouts the man at the wheel, the drifter negotiates the narrow and difficult corner of the opening leading from the inner to the outer harbour.

As she glides gracefully into open water the sun breaking suddenly through the dense clouds, sends a dazzling ray of sunshine athwart her bow, and turns her path into a sunlit way—an omen of good luck for the Yarmouth fishing.

Lucky Pennies

One by one the boats muster into line and swing through the narrow opening, and in their transit a shower of “lucky pennies ” is skilfully thrown on the decks by the many well-wishers on the pier.

“Pick them up, pick them up,” is the injunction cried to the passing crews the coins rattle down. Let uninitiated folk however, take careful aim and select the correct moment for throwing, otherwise not the drifter, but the omnivorous harbour will receive “the luck.

“D’ye see daddy?” cries the young mother, holding baby up as the boat passes. “Daddy” meanwhile waves a hand in farewell, and his eyes strain back as long they can see the familiar forms of those left behind.

A further rush is now made to “the pint o’ the pier,” from which point of vantage we shout our final messages and farewells. Soon the loud blowing of sirens drowns our voices, and we content ourselves with waving handkerchiefs, scarves, or whatever conspicuous object we have at hand.

Jimmy Brunton’s Lasher KY25 prepares to leave for Yarmouth

A vigorous response is waved from the departing boats, and soon a few dim specks on the horizon are all that is visible of our fishing fleet, which will in few minutes disappear “ahint the  May”

Townwards once more we turn our faces. Shivering in the air, which has suddenly become cold, we hastily patter over the cobbles homewards to our daily tasks.

Stir and bustle of departure is over, and the streets seem strangely quiet. Without the vigorous gaiety and activity of our blue-clad fishermen it’s a “toom toon.”

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