Discovering The Fishing Stations Of Gotland

Gnisvärd, Gotland

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I went to Gotland in search of its stone labyrinths and the medieval city of Visby. But, as so often happens, it was the unexpected that caught my attention. I found two things that took me by surprise. The first was the ancient burial sites, and the second was the old fishing stations that are dotted around the coast

Gnisvärd, Gotland
The old fishing station at Gnisvärd, Gotland

The Gnisvärd Fishing Station

The discovery was quite accidental. Out for an evening walk on my first day in Gotland, I headed for the nearby coastal village of Gnisvärd. As we approached it started to remind me of Gammelstad, the Swedish church town I visited earlier this year. Although much smaller, it had the same red-painted wooden huts and the same sense of impermanence. There was hardly anyone about: I discovered that, like a church town that was only occupied on Sundays and feast days, Gnisvärd was built as a base for temporary fishing excursions.

Gnisvärd, Gotland
The fishing station at Gnisvärd

I learnt that the fishing stations in Gotland originated in the 18th century, when the island’s farmers would turn their hands to fishing twice a year. For a few weeks in spring and autumn they would take up residence in the huts. From here they would set out to the Baltic to catch large amounts of herring and other fish which they then salted for use in the coming months.

Changes In The Fishing Industry

Over time the fishing industry became less important than agriculture. By the 19th century most farmers had stopped their fishing activities. Just a few became full time fishermen, mainly catching salmon. It is hard to imagine the fishermen and their families living in these tiny one-room huts, but for a while Gnisvärd became a permanent settlement. It even acquired a small chapel in 1839. Once a week a priest would arrive in the village and stay overnight in one of the huts so that he could hold a service the following morning.

Gnisvärd, Gotland
Today Gnisvärd is used for leisure fishing

There is no serious fishing done here any more: just two trawlers now supply all of Gotland’s fish. Gnisvärd has reverted to its status as a temporary community, mostly used by weekend anglers. The huts are all privately owned and there are strict rules about their occupancy. No-one (apart from the permanent caretaker) may stay for more than one or two nights at a time, and holiday lets are not permitted. This helps to preserve the character of the fishing village, which is popular with bird watchers and other visitors who enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

Gotland’s Other Fishing Stations

There were fishing stations all around the coast, and you can still see the remains of many of them. I drove to the other side of the island, to the village of Grynge. The huts here are more substantial, being built of stone, and some of them are now used as holiday homes. You can see evidence of the village’s past in the two stone beacons on the hillside; these would once have been topped with bundles of fire to guide returning ships safely into the harbour.

Grynge, Gotland
Stone huts at Grynge

My last stop was at Kovik. This is a living museum, which has brought together huts and fishing equipment from around the island. Here you can explore the inside of a hut, and the yard where the fishermen hung out their nets out to dry. There are stone jetties and a light pole to hold the burning beacon.

Kovik Fishing Museum
Kovik Fishing Museum – the poles would have been used for drying nets

I stopped to look at the tiny chapel at Kovik. There was no graveyard: this chapel was built as a place for private meditation and for the remembrance of fishermen who had been lost at sea. But I noted the confetti on the ground, a reminder that, whether temporary or permanent, the community lives on.


6 thoughts on “Discovering The Fishing Stations Of Gotland”

  1. Doreen Pendgracs

    I can see where many people in our community would be drawn to Gotland, as we have many fishermen here in the Interlake region of Manitoba, Canada. Thx for sharing.

  2. Gotland is one of my favorite places, but we missed most of the fish shacks! I had no idea there were so many, but then, with all those ancient churches to explore, time was too short!

  3. I am not familiar with this part of the world and certainly not fishing stations. Thank you so much for the introduction and the glorious photos.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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