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This article is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

Whaling and the Gothic North
‘On the Face of the Deep’
Lesley Harrison
I am very lucky to live on the very edge of the North Sea, along the high red cliffs of the Angus coastline. This is a quiet landscape: on the one side there are fields, then trees, and the grey shadows of the Grampian foothills; on the other, open sea. At many points the coastal path overhangs the ocean below, and depending on the light you might see dolphins, or the row of giant wind turbines 11 miles out, or even the black back of a whale rising briefly, like a dark sunken moon. I grew up just south of here in Dundee, which was in its day a major whaling port for the North Atlantic. Over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries those waters were progressively fished out, and by the beginning of the twentieth century only Peterhead and Dundee, and then only Dundee, were sending ships to the ice.

This is one of the thin places, if you accept these exist. Though there is no longer a north water fishing fleet, the sense of being at the southern edge of a much larger, colder world, remains as a layer in our collective subconscious as a reflective, cautious way of thinking; a watchfulness, almost a prehension of the cold. Already in October there is a sense of winter waiting just over the horizon. Daylight has a pearly feel. ‘What surprised me most in the Arctic Regions’, said a young Arthur Conan Doyle, surgeon on board the whaler Hope of Peterhead in 1880, ‘was the rapidity with which you reach them. I had never realized that ...


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