Friday, February 13, 2009

This is for my sister...

...although I am sure many others will enjoy it too! (turn up the sound)

Flamborough Sword Dancing has been a tradition in the village for over 100 years, although no-one seems to agree on exactly when it began. I believe that traditionally it was danced by fishermen. I doubt that the ones in this video are all fishermen, since fishing is no longer a viable means of livelihood - but they are all wearing a fisherman's 'Gansey.'

A Gansey is a distinctive woollen sweater, originally designed to provide protection for fishermen from wind and water but which is ideal for all outdoor activity. Using a tightly spun 5-ply worsted wool (popularly known as "Seamen's Iron") the intricately patterned Gansey is knitted in one piece on five steel needles.

These days, the Flamborough Sword Dance team's main tradition is to tour the village on Boxing Day - an event which involves the meeting of dancers, a practice walk through (with inevitable arguments) and collecting money. The tour of the Pubs in the village finishes in Dog and Duck Square, which involves banter and encouragement from villagers and friends. The dance is a part of this happy event but it is only a part. (I am assuming the other part is the consuming of perhaps large amounts of beer -- only to keep warm, of course)

This video is taken right in Flamborough and brings back wonderful memories for me -- maybe for my sister, too!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fish Tales

So there I was, all snuggled up, lovely and warm in my bed at night while the storm was raging all around.

Sometimes 60 - 80 mile per hour gale force winds would roar across the headland from the North Sea.

I remember my father taking me to the edge of the cliff during one of those wind storms. We went RIGHT to the edge, something I'd not normally be allowed to do -- but the wind was so strong there was absolutely no fear of us falling over. In fact, my dad literally leaned out over the cliff with his arms spread-eagled as if he was about to take off like a seagull, and the wind held him up!

So I did the same thing -- it was amazing! The incredible power of those winds left a firm impression in my mind. At age 10, I didn't really know too much about a Creator -- but those winds convinced me of the fact that there was definitely a Higher Power behind them.

The Flamborough fishermen were well acquainted with the gale force winds, and not a few of them were, of necessity, on good speaking terms with the Creator, too. Many a time they would be out beyond the bay in their fishing boats, hoping for a good catch, when a storm would virtually sneak up on them before they could head to shore.
Wives and mothers, shawls wrapped around them to shield them from the cold and rain, waited on shore hoping -- praying -- for the best for their men, but expecting the worst. Many a fisherman lost his life as his fishing boat would ride the mammoth waves, throwing him overboard -- the boat tossing and turning until it was bashed against the rocks.
Here’s an ode to John Thompson, a fisherman who was drowned on January 10, 1814

From home he went with mind most free,
His livelihood to gain at sea;
He ne'er returned, a furious wave,
Cast him into a watery grave;
A grave in motion termed the deep,
Left child and widow for to weep.

To be sure, a fisherman's life was a hard one. Even when the weather was fair and the catch was good, the fish had to be brought ashore.

They would bring their boats in on either the north or south sides of the headland. They are precarious beaches at best with no protection from the storms. The boats, having no shelter, are hauled up the steep slope with the help of a steam windlass.
"When the boats have just come in and added their gaudy vermilions, blues, and emerald greens to the picture, the North Landing is worth seeing. The men in their blue jerseys and sea-boots coming almost to their hips, land their hauls of silvery cod and load the baskets pannier-wise on the backs of sturdy donkeyswhose work is to trudge up the steep slope to the road, nearly 200 feet above the boats, where carts take the fish to the train station four miles away." (

And what was their reward for all their labours? Well, depending on the season, and the weather and the number of fishing boats going out at the same time, probably a mere pittance. The fisherman were loyal to each other when any of them were in trouble, but competition between them was fierce, when it came to who had the biggest catch and the greatest financial yield.

But the reward for us?
Mmm...good! A plate of deliciously fresh fish, fried in the crispiest, greasiest batter, with chips and mushy peas -- who could ask for anything more!
And just in case your mouth is watering, and you are wondering how you could ever avail yourself of this Flamborough delicacy -- here is the recipe. You are just a few steps away from gourmet heaven!

* photo of the fisherman with his laden donkey comes from The Right Side of the Dyke; Flamborough in their own Words, by Margaret Smith and Rita Sellars -- A Flamborough Oral History Project.

Click here: to read the story behind this amazing book, and also for contact and purchase information.