Quayside

In the far northwest highlands of Scotland, the village of Lochinver wraps around a deeply curving bay where the harbour is backed spectacularly by the smooth iconic dome of Suilven, known as sugar loaf mountain.

On the quayside, an extraordinary Scots baronial building, formerly the laird’s lodge, is now the Culag Hotel. Here the Wayfarers Bar extends a warm welcome to international crews from fishing vessels, local people, visitors and holiday makers. Close by, the village football pitch is grazed by wild and pesky red deer with refined tastes in lush grass, village flowerbeds and vegetable plots.

This small coastal community is a hub for the landing and onward transportation of fresh fish by refrigerated lorry to Scottish and international destinations.

Through the years I have watched the comings and goings of vessels and crews; small inshore boats harvesting prawn, crab and lobster, larger vessels netting whitefish and fish farm boats landing Loch Duart salmon.

Harbour sounds drift across the bay and around the village. Chugging engines alert seals that pop up to follow the boats in hope of scraps. And on quiet nights, in the stillness of pure highland air, the tumble-drier rumble of the ice making tower, capable of producing 20 tonnes per day, disturbs light sleepers.

In the early morning, boats steaming out are watched through bleary eyes!

With proximity to all of west of Scotland, Rockall and North Atlantic fishing grounds, the harbour is vital to the small highland community in so many ways.

A regular congregation of refrigerated lorries awaits the arrival of larger boats at the quayside. The unloading of fish is speedy; every minute counts when the drivers have a journey almost the entire length of mainland UK ahead of them.

It’s a demanding route, through the highlands of Scotland to the white cliffs of Dover and then onward to fish markets, like Lorient in Brittany. A young French driver told me the job is gruelling yet in a few years he hopes to save enough to buy a plot of land to build his family a modest home.

Yet as Brexit talks are further extended to explore ways of meeting both UK and EU demands for fishing rights, it hard to imagine how he, and this harbour I know and love, will fare in the coming years.

The situation is complex and ironic too; most of the fish landed by UK fishers is exported, and most of the fish eaten in the UK is imported.

Issues in the fisheries debate also include the protection of fish stocks to prevent over fishing and accommodating the different needs -and vastly different catch sizes – of small boats and immense trawlers.

And the simple fact that the majority of Scottish voters never wanted Brexit anyway.