Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wandering in Spring and Time


 It's a fine day for the beginning of Spring - a brisk East wind- the best kind for drying laundry. I have two lines flapping away on the line this morning, but it is so nice that I feel like taking a little wander around. Come along - its not too far.


 Most of my pictures around the croft lately have tended to show just the field closest to the house, as that is where the cows and hog lambs have spent the Winter. There is another field on this croft - further down - I tend to refer to it as the" bottom top field." It slopes down towards the big drain that serves all the crofts in this part of the village. Its a nice place to wander around. What I like best about it are the remains of the old blackhouse that was once the home of the original crofters, probably in the 19th century. Lets explore!


There is not much left of the house now - many of the stones have been used in other projects over the years, and the original layout has been lost. Originally it would have been a long low building with a thatched and turfed roof - built to withstand the weather - thick  double stone walls, packed with earth and turf in the cavity.  One end of the house would have housed the animals and the other end was where the family living space and normally a separate sleeping room were. The peat fire was in the middle of the floor in the living space and the smoke would drift up and disperse through the thatch - it was kept burning constantly and never allowed to go out. Every year the straw from the roof was renewed and the old peat smoke infused thatch was spread on the fields before the crops were planted. It was a very functional and sustainable way of living.


I just remembered this picture of Kenneth, Louise and James in front of the fire at the Arnol Blackhouse. (well worth a visit). This has a stone floor, but I think our one would have been of beaten earth. It is such a pleasant, cosy fire - and really not as smokey as you would think. I wonder what stories were told, songs sung and conversations were had around the hearth here. Children would drift off to sleep, lulled by the glowing peat embers, and soft Gaelic voices.  The people who lived in these houses were, in the main very healthy. It was only when the Health Officials made them put fireplaces and chimneys in that  TB became a problem. It was found that smoke blackened thatch actually had antiseptic properties. Creosote had been widely used as a disinfectant before carbolic acid was discovered to do the same, and the roof thatch and timbers were saturated in creosote residue.  So once the bug killing smoke was removed up a chimney, its bug killing properties drifted into the atmosphere. (Even then the authorities thought they knew better.... I've just been watching Farmageddon and getting mad - and don't even start me on horse meat!!)

There seems to be three "rooms" or areas here, but it is hard to tell if the layout has been changed.  The family would have moved out into the more modern White houses which began to be built sometime in the early 20th Century, and this would have remained as a storage space cum barn. It may have been modified to suit changing purposes, but now it is tumbled down, used as shelter by the sheep.


Oh - but it is still a great place to poke around - imagining how the family would have lived. Hoping to uncover a small forgotten treasure left behind - maybe hidden in a hidey hole somewhere!


And wondering what they would have seen, stepping out of their door. Of course the land would be the same, but there would have been a string of blackhouses running all the way down to the loch - and all the way up to the hill - the remains of the original" street" can still be seen in every croft. It would have been  a busy scene - people fetching water, tending livestock and working in the fields, children running around and hens squawking.


You can still see the rigs where the crops were grown. This is a sheltered south east facing slope, and would have produced a good crop of barley or oats  - corn, as we call it here. An elderly neighbour has told us that not so long ago, he could stand down near where that white house is, and see fields of corn all the way along here.



Looking to the South - there is such a wonderful view of the Cailleach na Mointeach over on the way down to Harris. The landscape is much more open here than up at the house - it is a lovely place just to escape, or take in a different perspective, for a wee while.


Today, I found a large stone with a hole ground into it. Who made that? Why? With what? It is just a small cup-shaped hole - not big enough for grinding grain, I would imagine. Maybe it was  part of a gatepost - a latch hole perhaps? Always something new to wonder about.


Sitting here, musing on my discovery, I hear a scrabbling. Sally, our pet lamb from last year clambers over the wall to say hello, although I suspect she still harbours a vain hope that I might have a bottle of milk with me.


But time is getting on now, and I need to get back to some work. Lets head back up to the house. See- told you it wasn't far - only about 150 years! xx

I am linking up today with The Magic Onions for Friday's Nature Table. Do visit and see some very inspiring nature- themed posts.


33 comments:

  1. Ah. I love Scotland :-) Though I'm not crazy about the snow we're having over our side! Spring? It hasn't sprung here yet!

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  2. Wonderful pictures and such interesting history on your doorstep, thanks for sharing.
    No sun down in the midlands today.
    Jacquie x

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  3. Why did TB spread with the installation of fireplaces? Did it congregate people in a closer place and spread that way?

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  4. I so enjoyed my stroll this morning, thank you. The only thing that would have made it better was if I had actually been beside you.
    I am so envious of all your beautiful stones, that is one thing that the south doesn't have much of.
    Happy spring dear friend!

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    1. Hi Tracey - how I would love to walk with you. We have lots of stone - but no trees... x

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  5. Maybe the home was less warm with a chimney? I've always been curious about peat fires, reading in novels about them... I wonder what you would dream about if you slept down in the house-ruins one night. Lois, still freezing in Ontario...

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  6. @ Missy and lois - the peat smoke actually acted as an antiseptic and killed all the bugs. The blackened thatch would contain creosote, which was widely used as a disinfectant before carbolic acid was discovered.
    I'll amend the post to say this - thanks xx

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  7. Thanks for the trip back in time. Benedict and I have been looking at the viking/anglo saxon houses and your fire shot in the middle of the room brings it alive.

    San x

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    1. San - they were very much based on the longhouse design. The Western Isles were ruled by the Vikings and. Part of their kingdom. Many place names are Norse xx

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  8. brilliant, thanks for showing us round :-)

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  9. Not only was this tour a visual feast, but so much knowledge was gained along the way. So much beauty. So much history. Just...wow!

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  10. What an interesting post. I never knew about the creosote killing the bugs. Every day is a school day.

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  11. Thank you so much for the interesting walk through your land.

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  12. I read your post this morning and this evening after watching the weather we sat and watched "Grand Designs" which was in Skye. He showed us some Black Houses what a coincidence.

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    1. How interesting - and also my husband came back from town with a book from the charity shop about rural house styles -and there was a chapter on the blackhouse! He didn't know I was writing this at the time! It is such a practical design x

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  13. What beautiful photos! like a breath of fresh air for the eyes : )

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  14. Thank you for the trip. It was so interesting and beautiful! You live in a very beautiful place:) (and I'm sure you know that)

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  15. I always love your posts and photos. In fact, after reading this post I promptly did a Google search for "Hebridean Real Estate"...(I write this from southern Manitoba, Canada, where we are currently still under many feet of snow. Unusual, even for here, at this time of year) A girl can dream! :)

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  16. Oh what fab pics! So beautiful! thanks for sharing, xx

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  17. Hi, Many old crofts are being done up here, it's lovely to see them being used again, and they are so cozy too. (South Uist)

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    1. Hi Julie - yes- it's not happening so much here, although people have restored an old house as a holiday home down the road a bit. Very expensive to do!

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  18. Thanks for taking us on the walk with you. You live is such a beautiful place, with so much history. We have history too, it just seem to go back quite so far ;)

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  19. I enjoyed that so much, but found myself wondering...why "black houses" and "white houses"?

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  20. I enjoyed that so much, but found myself wondering...why "black houses" and "white houses"?

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    1. The white houses were the modern newer ones built in the early 20th century and superseded the old stone long houses. They became known as black houses just to differentiate them from the Taigh Gael - White House. It's sounding quite complicated now, but basically, the black house wasn't called a black house until the White houses came along. Xx

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    2. And the White house was so called because of it's colour - it was a white harling that was used on the walls. xx

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  21. I love how open your skies and your land is. I'm thinking it must be quite windy with all that space to roam around in.
    I also was wondering why "white house" and "black house". Is white harling still what is used on some houses today?

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  22. Enjoyed the walk very much, thank you! So glad you treasure the history of the area you are now apart of!

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  23. Such beauty in your words and pictures.

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  24. What a wonderful blog you have. I've enjoyed reading your posts and taking a trip with you. You live in a beautiful part of the country.

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  25. I enjoyed this post so much, I never knew the qualities of creosote, thats amazing, such beautiful land, best wishes from Canada!

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    1. Hello Laurie - thank you :) My sister is in Ontario too xx

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