In the Footsteps
of the Fishwife

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Once upon a time, in the gloomy days of pandemic lockdown, Newhaven Heritage was considering the best way to convey the tale of the village of Newhaven and show the general public how its community functioned and helped one another through both good and terrible times.

It was thought that a small museum might not be the ideal choice because the exhibits’ story would be preserved in aspic in that antiseptic setting. As it turned out, a museum would also be quite expensive to operate and maintain, even though, at that time, the committee was unaware of the impending crisis we are now experiencing.

The history of Newhaven differs significantly from that of other fishing settlements along the Scottish coast. It was an important goal to tell Newhaven’s story to inform both current residents and potential visitors. Newhaven Heritage saw a way forward in making use of the Internet, while making personal contact by staffing the old harbourside police box on Saturday mornings.

What were we to do, then? The solution was to create a virtual heritage trail by placing QR codes at key locations. These would direct smartphone users to particular webpages on a dedicated website. Nowadays, most people are aware of QR codes, the little black boxes that resemble a square maze. As society started to emerge from lock-down, it often became a requirement for entry into a café, restaurant, or bar.

Using this technique, the trail-follower would be connected to old photos at each Route Stop while they were in the present. If a user wants to learn more, additional pages known as Side Tracks are provided. These widen the scope of information relating to each site.

We refer to the heritage trail as a stravaig, a Scots phrase that means to ramble, to meander aimlessly, or to gad about casually. In this context, the word ‘aimless’ does not indicate ‘pointless’, but rather ‘without a fixed destination’. The Stravaig can be completed as a whole or in small, manageable chunks; some or all of the Side Tracks can be read at each Route Stop in turn or some or all of the pages can be visited at a later date. It’s up to the Stravaiger.

There are 24 Route Stops along the way, and around seventy Side Track pages. The stories on these pages were researched and compiled over the course of two years by a number of volunteers, some of whom were new to the area but had taken Newhaven to their heart when they made it home. A lot of the information was already known and had been compiled by the members of Newhaven Heritage, but, to everyone’s delight, new discoveries emerged during investigation to validate key elements.

For instance, did you know that in the past you could have walked from one side of the harbour to the other by going from boat to boat? That boats could have been beached along the shoreline that extended from the pier to Anchorfield? That ferries and stagecoaches to London departed from Newhaven? That a choir of fisherwomen from Newhaven sang to King James IV in 1506? That, prior to redevelopment, there used to be 82 shops and businesses along the length of Main Street? These and other amazing facts are waiting to be found within Newhaven’s Stravaig Through Time.

The wonderful aspect of the virtual historical trail is that it is organic, meaning that the data will keep expanding and being updated. Every page of the website offers the public the chance to fill in the blanks, correct information that is displayed, and verify information that is provided for everyone to read and use. To ensure that the information is sent to the proper source, click the Contribute link to open an email page.

A further bonus of a Web-based trail is that, wherever they are in the world, the Bow-Tow diaspora may read and enjoy the tale of their old home. The Friends of Newhaven Heritage are not only spread out across the entire UK, but also in places like Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, South Africa, and the Caribbean. Now they have the chance to share details about the pasts of their ancestors with Newhaven Heritage and like-minded others interested in the history of the village.

Newhaven’s Stravaig Through Time is now operational. However, for those who are unable to travel to Newhaven, you may still take part in the virtual heritage trail by letting your fingers do the walking at www.newhavenstravaigs.scot. To derive the greatest benefit, we suggest that you “walk the walk” which begins at the harbourside police box but however you choose to Stravaig, we hope that you will enjoy it and learn about this most intriguing of villages. ■

Gordon Young

Info: Gordon Young at newhavenheritage@gmail.com

Newhaven Harbour in the 1960s (in Technicolor!) The Stravaig starts at the Police box here

Did you know in the past you could have walked from one side of the harbour to the other by going from boat to boat

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