Peats: the Story from the Peatbank to the Stove

Over the past few week, a number of readers have been asking specific question regarding our peat. To answer them, and to give y'all an overview of how peats come from being part of a peat bank out in the moor to being burnt in our kitchen stove, I've put together a series of photos which will, I hope, make it all clear to you.

Before going onto the photos and our peats, a wee overview may be helpful. The Isle of Lewis is mostly moorland. In practically the whole island, all the people live along the coasts, and all of what is between the west-coast homes and the east-coast homes is moorland.

Moorland - as far as the eye can see.

You can see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance, and the Ness houses can be seen following the coast.  

Here again, on the far right, you can see the sea and some of the houses.

In late April, the peatbanks are turfed. This means taking the top layer - the ceap - off, and so exposing the peat underneath.

The turf - na ceapan - are placed on the ground, in the broinn - the inside of the peat bank. Later, you'll see the peats that have been cut being thrown either into this lower part of the bank or on the upper part.

This top part is cleaned to give a smooth surface, free of heather roots.

The peat iron is then used to cut the individual peats. They're cut in 'slices', as you can see from the photo. Each one is cut, 

and pushed out.

Then the person who's throwing (although these photos show the Builder doing both the cutting and the throwing, that's not how it happens 'in real life'. My multitasking abilities don't stretch to taking photos and throwing the peats), takes that peat and throws it on the dry heather round about.

Here, you can see Big Brother turfing - further back in the photo. The Builder is using the peat iron - an taraisgeir - to cut the peats, and DR is throwing them: some are on the top of the peat bank; others are thrown on the lower ground - the inside of the bank.

Nice throwing action, DR ;)

This peat bank has now been cut. You are able to see the top layer - the ceap - lighter in colour, and full of grass and heather roots. Then you have the two layers of peat that were cut out. 

And can you see similar looking peat banks in the distance? 

The peats are left to dry for a few weeks. When the top part is dry enough, they're 'lifted' into wigwam type shapes. This allows the wind to blow through the little pile, drying them all over.

Some time later - the length of time depends on our weather - they are ready to be gathered into bigger piles - dùintean - ready for taking home.

When the tractor comes for taking them home, the peats will be thrown directly from these piles into the trailer. 

And so to taking them home. 

The tractor drives slowly along the peat bank, and each pile of peats is thrown into the trailer.

Because many of peats break up, or at least bits break off the peat, we put the little bits - na caoranan - into bags.

The bags come home on top of the load of peats.

The Builder had made a 'platform' for the peats - simply so they wouldn't sit on wet ground.

The loads are dumped here - here's the first load -

and they're stacked into a peat stack.

We only cut a very small amount compared with what used to be cut when we were growing up. We only have one small stove, but when we were growing up, all the cooking and baking was done in the big kitchen stove, which was burning peat all the time.

In the evenings, the open fire in the Living Room was lit. All in all, this amounted to a lot of peats!

For us, we have the delight of our lovely-smelling peat, 

giving a wonderful, cozy flame in our kitchen area.


  1. Fascinating post! What does it smell like? Do you get the fragrance of wood burning? Another question - who owns the moors? I love reading your posts because your life is so incredibly different than ours here in dry Arizona! Have a blessed day!

    1. Fascinating - I feel the same way! (And I'm also in Arizona.) I also don't understand some of your words - you old-world-ers can sure speak strange English. ;)

  2. Thank you - I have always wondered! Beautiful pictures! I too wonder about the scent of peat! Wonder if they make a candle like that! :)

  3. Add-on question, because we don't have moorland here (our region is known as the Sandhills, which is exactly what it sounds like...sand, sand, sand...): Is all moorland peat underneath? I.e., could someone cut anywhere into those central moors and get peat out? Such an interesting overview!

  4. Yes,fascinating. So, another question. Who owns the land where you cut the peat? Is that your land or is it "public" land? Does everyone burn peat? I can't imagine what it must be like?? Dirt does not burn, so I don't know what is actually burning on this?? But I sure don't see any trees lol!!! Thanks SO MUCH for the detail. I will re-read this. Blessings from Missouri!!!

  5. Thank you so much, Anne, for taking the time to photograph and blog a post in pictures explaining the process to us. I find that so fascinating.

  6. What an interesting post! I was wondering about the peat process when you've posted pictures before, thanks for explaining. And I love trying to work out how you would pronounce all those gaelic words!

  7. Very fascinating! I am now going to Google "peat", so that I know why it can be dried and then used to burn in your pretty, little, white stove! It looks like mud to me, but I know there is more to peat or it wouldn't be called peat, it would be called mud. :-)

  8. Yes, most of those great questions are mine, too, so I wont rewrite them all. Thanks for sharing! Scotland life is so fascinating! Actually, I do have one more question for you--is there peat everywhere in Scotland? I'm assuming not. So neat!

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all about the peats. It is so interesting. I can imagine that they do smell good. I like the smell of the earth. They look so cozy in the stove. Also, Happy Birthday! I did get through all 47 things about you and loved reading every one of them; you always make me laugh. Thanks for the fun posts.
    Love and Blessings,

  10. I loved this and I have always wanted to know the whole process. The peats do make such a nice fire.
    Reading your post makes me so happy you still do things the old way. Like spinning and things like that. This was a wonderful post. Thank you for going to all of the time to share it with us,.

  11. Thank you for sharing all this. I've grown up on George MacDonald books, and he loved his peats and sweet smelling fires. I hope someday to enjoy one and smell one.


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