How an old legend became a tradition

Rev Alan Cartwright carrying out the blessing of the nets service at Paxton House. Picture: Jim Gibson
Rev Alan Cartwright carrying out the blessing of the nets service at Paxton House. Picture: Jim Gibson

It was an idyllic spring evening beside the Tweed at Paxton House when a group of local residents and visitors joined the net boat crew.

They gathered as the Reverend Alan Cartwright conducted the traditional ceremony of Blessing the Nets last week.

By tradition, the Vicar usually receives the first fish landed in the net.

But unfortunately the river was too high for fishing, so the minister was deprived of his sea trout.

Salmon are returned to the river for the next few weeks under spring conservation measures to protect fish stocks.

Nevertheless, this year’s event was filmed for possible inclusion in the Paxton House video which is currently being shot.

The Paxton netting station is one of the very few fisheries still operating the traditional net and cobble method of salmon and trout fishing.

The traditional blessing of the nets ceremony originally took place on an annual basis at Pedwell, Norham to mark the start of the salmon netting season.

But Norham fishery was closed in 1987. Before then the ancient custom began in the cold and the dark at midnight on February 14.

The Pedwell Prayer would ask for a blessing on the fishery, its crew, its nets and its catch.

The shot was rowed and the vicar would be presented with the first salmon. The nets men and a few friends might then retire to the warmth of the shiel for a wee nip of whisky from an old tin mug!

But while this version of the annual ceremony appears to have Victorian origins, it is probably rooted deeper in the past, perhaps in the ‘ancient legend’ retold by the 12th century hermit, Reginald of Durham.

A reluctant schoolboy, Haldane, legend has it, was trying to avoid the lessons taught by the vicar in the church. He stole the door key and hurled it into the Tweed. The priest was reprimanded in a dream by St Cuthbert for not educating the boys.

The poor man explained his problem – no key. The saint told him to go to Pedwell and ask for the first salmon caught the next day.

Low and behold there it was, lodged in the fish’s throat!