The harbour basin we see at Nairn today was only completed in 1932. Prior to that the river Nairn was the harbour and boats could be moored right up to the Seaman's Hall. The 'Maggot' area on the east side of the river was where boats were moored for repair work before being re-floated at high tide back into the harbour.
In 1820, Thomas Telford built a pier to protect the fishing fleet from the north-westerly gales which swept across the Moray Firth. Telford altered the course of the river and built a pier along the western bank of the new river channel. The pier was destroyed in the great Moray floods of 1829 and had to be reconstructed with the addition of an east pier. For centuries boats were simply dragged up onto the beach above the high water mark for safety. When the men were setting off on their fishing trips to Caithness and Sutherland, or up to Fraserburgh, it was customary for the womenfolk to carry the men on their backs out to their boats. This would ensure they stayed dry. In those days they wore moleskin trousers, leather boots and serge jackets, no waterproofs then!
Now the harbour is home to a large number of small and medium sized pleasure boats and there is an active sailing club at the harbour with its own Clubhouse for social events.
Harbour history text and image reproduced with kind permission of Nairn Museum.
Whilst the men were out at sea fishing, the women, though left onshore, worked no less hard. The work of the Fishertown women was essential to the trade in Nairn. They made and mended nets, readied their menfolk for sea (including carrying them to the boats) and processed, marketed and sold the catches brought ashore. There was bait to be dug, lines to be baited, cod, herring, haddock and skate to be gutted, salted and smoked. The haddock especially was smoked to create the once famous 'Nairn Spelding'. The name was derived from the old Scots word 'Speld' meaning 'to split open'. In the evenings the women would knit gansies, socks and drawers. Several times a week, they would fill their creels and go to market in Inverness and Forres, sometimes walking all the way. Often they went further - to Kingussie, Fort William or Perth. As they worked they would laugh, gossip, sing and tell stories.
With the coming of the railway line to Nairn in 1855, many fishwives took advantage of the new opportunities and travelled by train to Inverness with boxes of fish which they hawked through the streets.
A statue of a Nairn fishwife was unveiled in 2017 at the harbour in order to commemorate the unique and important role the women played within the fishing industry. The sculptors were Ginny Hutchison and Charles Engebreston.
Harbour history text reproduced with kind permission of Nairn Museum. Image by Colin McPhail.