The first time we took the family to The NL, aboard a ferry from Harwich, I was so struck by the resemblance of Harwich to the descriptions in Ladybird’s ‘Man on the Sea’ that I said, ‘It’s a real working port!’ They’ve never let me live it down. Nevertheless, I insist on still seeing the world through a child’s eyes and I’m not ashamed to be fascinated or entertained by the things I see.
So the sight of Zoutcamp’s fishing fleet, decked out in bunting, easily made an impression on me.
We’d crossed the Lauwersmeer, stunned by it’s sheer size and the seemingly random scattering of navigation buoys – they became easier to interpret as we progressed- but were halted by the Zoutcamp bridge, which was firmly closed and showing two red lights, meaning ‘prolonged stoppage’. The woman in the yacht haven office told us. The bridge is broken!’
Oh dear for us and also for the fishing fleet, which she told us, ‘Must go out tomorrow.’
We had no choice but to book into the yacht haven and hope to work out how to get through, round or preferably under the bridge tomorrow. A walk around Zoutcamp, described as a ‘small fishing village’ made things clearer. They were in the midst of a festival – Pentecost – or Pinksteren. The ancient religious festival had become a celebration of the town’s fishing industry to culminate the next day by the entire fleet, bunting and all, going across the Lauwersmeer to collect the ‘Prawn Queen’ and bring her home, to reign for a year. So much for broken bridges.
Some years ago, we stopped at Wick on the way back from The Orkneys, hoping to admire their fishing fleet. What a disappointment that was. There were only two boats in the harbour, not because the rest were at sea. Their fishing industry in Wick was in decline. Terminally. So Zoutcamp was a bit of a contrast. As well as all the boats, the town’s entire population strolling around, kids playing on the funfair attractions, very loud cover versions of cheesy British and American pop music, there was the food. If you’ve never eaten smoked eel, I recommend do so as soon as possible. It’s like mild, but tasty salmon and goes very well on toast. The fishing industry is definitely alive and kicking here, which is a good thing. This is not a village which has lost all hope of prosperity and fulfilment.
There is employment, on the trawlers and all the administration which backs this up, in the shops and restaurants, in the museum – and all because they can go out and catch prawns and other fish, in nets.
After lunch, the fleet really did ‘go out’ and we were able to watch, from the water. Noise, colour and exuberance.
It’s easy to read to your children about trawlers…it’s another thing altogether to see them and see the vitality of a community where the fishing industry is valued and valuable. Here’s to prawns!