Peat Cutting

Up until *this* generation, there really was no fuel used in the majority of island homes but peat.

There would be an open fire in the Living Room for warmth, and the stove in the kitchen not only gave warmth but was also used for all the cooking.

For most folk, the work began in May and carried on throughout the summer until August. It was enjoyable in many ways, but the work was hard too.

The peat would be turfed either late April, or early May, when they would be cut. They were laid out to dry; lifted into 'wigwams' when the top part was dry; gathered when they were totally dry; and then taken home in the trailer. 

I have so many happy memories of being on the moor: watching the men cutting; helping with the lifting, the gathering and the filling of the tractor trailer when the peats were ready for coming home. I also remember the picnics. Tea has a very special taste when you drink it on the moor. Maybe it's the dust landing in the cup. Or maybe (eek!) it's the beasties that find their way into the cup. Yuck!

Here are some photos of us out in the peats this year. I will post more when we've lifted them. (the peats; not the photos!)

First we loaded into the Big Brother's pick-up. The riff-raff were chucked into the back!

The peat bank is turfed first. Here's the Big Brother turfing with a spade and DR throwing the turf into the low part of the bank. These turfs are useful if the ground is very wet and boggy.

Here's this part of the peat bank ready for cutting. The tool in the foreground is the peat iron. You'll see it in action in the next photos.

And here's an action shot! The Big Brother is still turfing. The Builder is cutting and DR is throwing the newly cut peat where it will lie until it dries.

Here are peats lying on the top of the bank. 
We need: wind - check! and sun - uuuhh... let's forget that one for now, shall we!

Some bog cotton and .... a peat!

Heather in bloom

The Builder cutting; DR throwing the peats; Big Brother turfing - ahead of the others

The obligatory picnic! Please excuse facial expressions! 
Excuses are as follows: sun in eyes; wind in faces; food in mouths!

Cutting the peats is man's work. Always was. Still is. That's why the Builder and his Big Brother are slogging away and......

I'm sitting in the sun.

Hang on a minute....something's not right here!

The peat bank done. You can see the layers in the newly-cut bank: the top layer is the turf; then there are two layers showing where each layer of peats have been cut

And so we headed home

One of the villages from the peat road. The Atlantic can be seen in the backgound.

I'm sorry there are so many photos. I hope this post didn't bore you, but I couldn't decide between the ones I took. 


  1. Hmmmm peat cutting. I am filled with horrible memories, of dirt in my cup, of clegs biting, peat in my eyes, and general un-pleasantries, and beasties in general.


    My poor mother spent her whole life throwing the peat - still does. She was never 'heavy' enough for the peat cutting {less superior peat in our part of the island apparently according to a fellow niseach). Can't think of anything nice to say about it.

    But good attempt at making it look fun ;-)

  2. ah, no I disagree, I loved the family/community spirit of peat cutting. True, the midgies and cleggs could drive you insane.

    I can almost smell the machair from your photos!

  3. Oh Wow!!! This is SOOOO neat! I have always wondered about peat, and how it is grown and harvested. is it wild? oh! To visit Scotland! I have always, always, always wanted to walk on a moor and see real heather!!!! Oh wow! This is awesome! The Heather is so beautiful, though, I must admit, in my imagination, it was more like purple baby's breath! thanks you so much for posting this! It made my day! :) oh! By the way, what are cleggs? Are they the same thing as mosquitoes? I love you blog because it is written all about a country that fascinates me! :) -Rachel

  4. Hi Rachel,
    well, peat isn't 'grown'....it's just *there*. If you imagine moorland with really, really deep soil, but this 'soil' is thick, sticky, very dark, airless 'mud'. So when you take a 'block' out of that, it stays stuck. It then dries and pretty much stays in that block shape (slightly shrunk and shrivelled, but basically the same). That square block is like a block of fuel then. It burns really well. Some people on the island have really 'black' peat - it's soooo dense and smooth, and when it burns it's almost like coal. Other people's peats are lighter in colour, in weight and are more 'grainy'. It still burns well, but doesn't give off the same heat.
    Evolutionists would say it's not as 'old' as the very dark brown/black peat.
    I reckon they're all the same age, have all been here since the flood, and have probably been cut since the Vikings first came to Lewis.
    You'll see more of them as I post photos throughout the summer of them being lifted and being taken home.
    Thanks for your comments. Love 'em!
    Love, Anne x

  5. Oh - clegs.....you may know them as horsefly. They bite and the bite can be really itchy and swell, but there's no disease associated - like your mosquito, I guess.
    Love, Ax

  6. Oh...horseflies. Those are nasty!!! We have huge ones around here! :P Ya'll don't have mosquitoes! Hallelujah! I'm moving to Scotland! ;) I'm kidding! What a blessing not to have mosquitoes! Sometimes when we went camping a few years ago, Sarah would get 50 or 60 huge welts from the bites and would be up all night itching! So if peat is just there, do you ever run out of places to harvest it from? Or is it continually building up? This is so cool!-Rachel

  7. That's probably where we went wrong Kirsteen, we never had the family/community "spirt", can imagine it would be a lot more fun had that been there :)

    Mind you Alan had even less of the family 'spirt', he had to cut/throw the peat by himself and take it home. No wonder he fears it!!

  8. I just wanted to stop in, say hi, and thank you for all your kind comments. We are on vacation right now and I have very limited internet access...but I wanted to be sure to say a quick hello, and let you know that your time and thoughtfulness had not gone unnoticed.

    I look forward to getting to know you.


  9. So interesting. I guess I have read about peat fires somewhere before, but I never really knew what they were. It is great to have a picture of the whole process and what the peat looks like. I love it. When we are stacking firewood this year, I will be thinking of you and the peat; and when we light our wood stove, I will think of you and your peat fire...you will have to post us a picture of it burning. I would like to see it. It wasn't at all boring by the way, I was very interested.

  10. Hi Anne,
    I so enjoyed reading and seeing the process of peat cutting. I was going to say the same as my mom, I have heard of peat but didn't quite know what it was. Very interesting. I love the feeling of working so hard outside and then taking a tea break. Tea always taste extra good!
    Oh, I SO enjoyed all your lovely comments on my blog! You are so much fun!

    I also wanted to ask you a question? There is an author that is from Scotland who happens to be Mine, my mom's and my sister Elizabeth's favorite author of all times. I don't know if you know her books, but her name is D.E. Stevenson. We just love her so much. She keeps us happy and so cozy whenever we read, reread her lovely stories.

    ~ Marie

  11. the heather is soooo beautiful! Love that you are a homeschooling mom - that has been on my heart for awhile now, more praying involved in making my decision though.
    Thank you for visiting my blog and supporting the Chase campaign! Ironically Rett Syndrome was REVERSED in a mouse model in Feb. 2007 right there in the UK! :) Lovely meeting you "virtually" I will continue to follow your wonderful blog. Thanks again!

  12. I loved the photos and reading about how you cut peat. I remember seeing some piles of it when we were in Scotland last summer. Oh, how I miss Scotland! It is so beautiful!

    Anyway, my question is: do you cut peat on your own land?

    Oh, and I loved the photo of the heather, too. :-)


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