We have had some verse and song about oysters and cockles on the river Teign. Now it’s the turn of the mussel. Mussels have been harvested from early times, either as a cheap source of food or as bait for fishermen. One particular mussel farm on the river can be traced back almost a thousand years.
Born into a family of musselmen, Syd Hook recalled in 2006: ’There were mussel beds all up the river. It would take 10 men working on a sprat swain, and to keep the crew together, the owner would have mussels up the river to keep them from catching the sprats.’ Nowadays there are just two or three mussel men remaining.
Once, the seine boats were used for collecting mussels – they were fitted with sails to get to the mussel beds. Now the farming is done from a mussel boat.
One of those pearly mornings
when the mist falls light on the river
and there is no sky,
the mussel boat is out.
It floats in that space neither water nor air
where mirage appear.
Yet it’s real enough,
seeding the channels,
laying down spat small as a fingernail
on the mussel beds.
Raising the racks of sharp edged shells,
bearded and barnacled, for sorting and grading.
The dead, the broken, crushed in a
mess of orange and black;
mussel flesh smeared
on the deck with
the mud and the rust.
There is no town – no bridge – no sea
on this cold spring morning,
only a mussel boat
cloaked in a mist of mother-of-pearl.
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