Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From the peat bank


A dry-ish morning had us heading out to the peat bank early on.  We are hoping to get the peats cut over the next couple of weeks, give them the summer to dry out, and then stack them at the house for our winter fuel.  Many people do still cut their own peat - as one of the other Mums in the village said - "It's just so worth it"  And indeed it is - so off we went.
Our peat bank is a good bit out of the township, at the side of the main road, so our newbie flounderings are visible to the entire community as they drive by, tooting their horns and waving, not to mention the various camper vans and tourists who slow down just a bit, hoping to see some traditional crofting :)  Maybe I have appeared on someone else's blog post about their holiday?
Anyway let me give you a wee insight into our day.
 

These are our tools.  The flat spade for lifting the turf, and the tarisker is the blade shaped tool, which is the actual peat cutting implement.  We have 2 tariskers - one is the working one, and the other is an older one which has recently had the shaft replaced and we wanted to try it out.  We also have a spade which is designed for cutting the peats on your own.  It was made for us by one of the men at John's Gaelic group, and we were trying that out today too.  Normally only the tarisker and flat spade are required.

The first task is to turf the bank and expose the peat.  The turfs are placed down in the trench made by last years peat cutting, and they will regrow and so aid the regeneration of the moss. Our bank has not actually been cut for several years, so it has overgrown quite a bit. John was out and did the turfing a few days ago, so it was straight to work.


Anyway - the next stage is to cut the peats, using the tarisker, or peat iron.  This is really a two-man job - one to cut  and the other to catch and throw the peat block up onto the bank, but I needed John to operate the camera. Hopefully you can see the process, as demonstrated by yours truly here. We take turns at cutting and throwing.
In the past this was very much a community event, as whole villages and families all gathered to cut everyone's peats for the Winter.  Nowadays it seems to be smaller groups or husband and wife teams going out for a couple of hours when they can.  While I would appreciate a whole clan of folks helping out with the cutting throwing and laying out to dry, I was secretly relieved that my clumsy and slapdash methods did not come under too much scrutiny from the village elders.


And then a wee rest and a shared cup of tea -


before we set the day's harvest out to dry. 

We'll keep cutting over the next couple of weeks, as the weather permits and then we should be able to lift them and stack them into little piles to dry out completely, but more on that another day.  


It is beautiful stuff when it is cut though - like rich, dense, chocolate fudge cake.  You could almost pour some double cream on that.
Aye, you fair work up an appetite after a morning at the peats!

23 comments:

  1. that is wonderful- thank you for sharing this- I've never seen it done before- but I would image it is great for keeping the house warm in the winter- For the record I think you look like an expert!

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  2. A warming activity all around, once whilst cutting it all, and then twice when burning it, knowing that the warmth it is giving you was facilitated by your own fair hand.

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  3. Nothing like being in touch with the earth, is there? beautiful!

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  4. Okay, I love you and I love your blog and I love your life (what parts you share --you know what I mean..) but Woman, that is just too hard work!
    Can't you find some young, buff, hotties you could just sit and watch do that?
    (no slight intended to John)
    LOL!

    What would be the Scottish slang for a yoong man one would care to stare at? A braw lad?
    meggs.

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  5. i have often wondered about the whole peat thing ... like how does it regenerate itself, how do you get to the actual peat and so on. this is really super. not only do i get the words from yourself but pictures too. it looks like hard work and you look like you've been doing it all your life.

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  6. My... you are a good woman.. smile.. No really..
    Are they heavy?
    Thank you so much for sharing something that I have only read about..
    Blessings..

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  7. I just love this...from my snug desk in Bristol, it looks so romantic spending the day cutting peat. And how satisfying it will be to see a huge stockpile come autumn. I once had a peat fire when we stayed in Lewis (in the clifftop bothy in Mangersta - do you know it?) and the smell of the smoke was gorgeous.

    I thought it would be similarly romantic sawing up logs for winter (I guess our peat equivalent) for our logburner, but actually the novelty soon wore off and it was flipping hard work!

    What a lovely post though, thanks!

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  8. Wonderful, and yes they will be lovely in the Winter months.

    My husband used to help his Grandad peat cutting when he were a lad back in Ireland, he has fond memories of the times out there - he said it was hard work though, but worth it.

    Lovely to catch up with your daily crofting life x

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  9. What a great post Jacqui, you have been hard at it! But what a great cause, think of the warming fires you'll have to look forward to xx

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  10. oh...brilliant.

    hard work -- but the kind that leaves you with a lovely feeling in your aching bones. 'good honest toil' as my Nanna would say...

    {thank you for your words on my conundrum...it means a lot to hear from you..xo}

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  11. Thank you - yes indeed it was warming work - and all the better for imagining the cosy fires in the WInter. Just a couple of hours a day for a few weeks - better than a gym membership, and you get more benefits at the end.
    Faye - They are not too heavy, but John does tend to cut big peats, so I have to keep reminding him to scale down.
    Megg - young buff hottie sounds good to me :)
    Bonnie - it's different from sawing wood, and we only go out when it is dry, so lots of lovely fresh air. I know Mangersta - beautiful place. We nearly bought a croft in Breanish, before we settled here. You might recognise the photos from Ardroil beach further down.
    Dawn - happy for you to send you dh up for a week ;)
    xxx

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  12. lovely to catch up at last , hope you are all well xxx I love looking at your landscape and I would so be there with you for a cuppa , just a few extra jumpers on me to be cosy and that would be me happy xxx Much love xx

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  13. I too love the look of your day, but quite honestly I don't know how you find the energy! It looks exhausting, but very rewarding.
    We have been planting some winter veg today, its such a nice feeling to know your preparing ahead for when its colder again.
    Good luck with the rest of your toiling, you need to take lots of yummy cake to keep you going. I reccomend a nice stodgy carrot cake!
    My Mum and Dad are your way at the moment, although at present still on the mainland. They are reporting some fairly wild weather! The rain would be much appreciated down here if you want to send it our way!

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  14. If I lived nearer and didn't have to go to work nothing would give me more pleasure than to be outdoors helping you. It looks hard work, but I love hard work! You would have to feed me though and I do eat rather a lot!
    Much love

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  15. Ak - It would be so nice if you could pop in for a cup of tea!
    Liz - Excellent recommendation. i can't remember if I gave your Mum my phone no - but they are both very welcome to drop by if they have time. Yes it is a bit of a stiff West wind today right enough :)
    Trish - nice of you to visit, and offer to help :)
    Always plenty to eat here - especially on peat cutting days. xx

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  16. What a wonderful post. I've heard about cutting peat but never really understood what it was all about. Does burning peat give good heat compared to wood? I think peat gives off a nice fragrance from what I've read in novels (lol). Lovely pics. I imagine cutting peat is like cutting wood, warming you 2ce: once during the work and once during the burn. Hope you enjoy your harvest when the snow flies. :-D

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  17. Gosh look at you working so hard. I have lay about on my bottom with a migraine today, I am almost envious if if it is peat cutting lol.

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  18. I remember when you did this last year. Thank you for an incredible look into your daily life. I know it's really hard work cutting peat but it has such a simple beauty to it when viewed from a screen. Be well friend.

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  19. Is this your personally owned peat bank or is this owned by the community that anyone can harvest?

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  20. Hi Kris - peat gives of a warm glowing heat, rather than a fierce burning fire. There are two different types of peat - the lighter coloured stuff from the top of the bank, which does burn, but is good at keeping the fire in, and the black peat from the second layer, which dries out to look like coal - it burns really well. There are stories of peat fires being kept alight for 30 years or more.

    V - hope you have a better day today. No way could you dig peat with a migraine - hugs.
    Valarie - there is something so elemental about working with the Earth in this way.

    Missy - no, we don't own the bank, but as Crofters we are allocated the bank which was historically worked by the people of that croft.
    Everyone in the community has their own area of the moor which is traditionally theirs to cut. It is nice to think of the history of the land in that way. Many peat banks are not maintained now, as most people have oil heating. With the rise in prices, however, many are turning back to the land as their fuel.
    xx

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  21. I would imagine there are ailments particular to the cutting of peat, like 'tarisker knee'. Love the idea and sight of peat fires, but the reek makes my eyes and nose stream so much that I can't be in the same room as a peat fire. Must be down to my Scandinavian genes ;)

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  22. I've just discovered your blog a while back and I'm so enjoying it. I added you to my blogroll today. I will have to read the back posts to find out more about heating with peat. So very interesting!

    Blessings,
    Dianne
    www.mysouthernheart.com
    www.campbellkidsfarm.com

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  23. Dianne - you are most welcome - nice to have you along. I enjoyed seeing your goats. xx

    Linda - i can't say I noticed any reek to be honest. There is much less than woodsmoke. In fact we had a fire on a week or so ago, and i had to go outside to smell the peat smoke from the chimmney. maybe if you are susceptible to it it would get you though x

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