Sunday, 18 October 2009



The smaller estuary salmon that were caught in the seine late in the season were called by the old fishermen: ‘lammies’. I don’t know who told me but I believe it, these lammies take their name from the Lammastide, one of those half forgotten festivals with roots reaching down to pagan times. Lammas is now disregarded almost everywhere but not forgotten in the city of Exeter where once a year a Lammas Fair is held, a grand occasion where the Lord Mayor leads a procession of rejoicing costumed schoolchildren to the Guildhall and, for the duration of the fair, a pole and a gilded glove stand in the market placeas a symbol of amnesty. The city claims that its ancient Lammas Fair is ‘at least nine hundred years old’ which is so much longer than anyone can remember that it might as well be a lot older.

It is therefore just possible that this fine word, lammie, which, in the context of salmon, is in danger of being lost for ever, has echoed around the banks and flats where men catch salmon for quite a while. The Exonians celebrate Lammas as and when they choose but the old festival was fixed to the first day of August in the old calendar, which, add eleven days, is about the time when the lammies run thickest in the channels. They are clean, pretty fish and they weigh between seven and nine pounds and tend to be relatively numerous. Even in the lean seventies it was not unknown to catch seven or eight of the fish in one haul and it was heartening to the weary seiner for once to see so many fine fish in the bunt of his net. It meant too that the precarious salmon season often ended on a high note.

The lammies of course, like all true salmon, are great leapers, that after all is what the word salmon means, but they do not only leap up weirs and falls. They leap for joy in the calm of the estuary. They leap for the fun of leaping and from time to time I still see the lammies at the lammastide, jumping clean out of the waters and glinting in the sun.
Next: Eels.

No comments:

Post a Comment