1 EAGLETON NOTES: The Peats - Part 1

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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Peats - Part 1

When I came to the Outer Hebrides in the '70s two of the common forms of heating were an open fire and a Rayburn Stove (definitely not an Aga). Ours was like the one shown and the same (hideous) colour. But then colour is a matter of taste and whilst I love blue I don't like that blue.

We had replaced the open fire in the living room with a solid fuel burning stove. The Aga and the stove were both fed on a diet of peat with some coal when more heat was necessary or the peat ran out.

Peat was an integral and essential part of Island life in those days. Every household had it's own peat banks out on the moor in the Township's Common Grazings. 

There was a ritual to cutting 'the peats' (as individual peats were called) which involved the whole family and, to an extent, the community. Being incomers we didn't have any family on the Island. However we came at a time when the local Council (with which I had come to work) was new and so there were a lot of incomers came to work at the same time as I did. We all formed our own 'family' for friendship, babysitting and peat-cutting etc. Many of the friends I made all those decades ago are still close friends today.

We were fortunate to have excellent banks with a mixture of dark (higher carbon) and light (more fibrous) brown peat. The banks were in a straight line probably 75 or more metres long which would easily provide enough peats for the house for a year.

Our peat banks out on the Coll Common Grazings
 To be continued.......

38 comments:

  1. Brilliant! Can't wait for the next post. Now I see what you were trying to explain to me. x

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    1. Well I'm glad that all is eventually becoming clear, Kate.

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  2. An interesting post. By the way, in error, you have repeated the following sentence - "We were fortunate to have excellent banks with a mixture of dark (higher carbon) and light (more fibrous) brown peat." As you already know I am both an observant and a helpful fellow. Glad to be of service sir.

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    1. Many thatnks, YP. I should obviously send my posts to you in draft first!

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  3. Wonderful words
    Smelling a peat fire is on my must do list. I've heard the scent is lovely.

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    1. Maywyn, the scent of a peat fire on the air in the township on a still morning used to be heavenly. When the house was pervaded by the smell it was sometimes a bit overpowering. It is, however, one of the most iconic smells of the Islands.

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  4. Amazing peat banks! Peat is a foreign, unknown/unavailable commodity here where I live, as I'm sure you are aware, Graham.

    I love the AGA stoves...they're so solid. I drooled over them for years, and then, when I was living on Newry Island, in North Queensland, running the little resort thereon at that time...in the kitchen was, to my delight, an AGA...but it was a gas-fired one, not wood-burning. It was a tough old cooker.

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    1. Some might say my final sentence about me!!! :)

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    2. You made me curious, Lee, as to whether there were any peat reserves in Australia. I know that there are some in Southern South Island, New Zealand. I've discovered that there are more peatlands in Australia than I would have imagined. There's an interesting web page here.

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    3. There are areas of peat reserves in Australia, Graham...but not here where I live. And, in comparison to the size of Australia the peat areas are relatively small.

      It's a very interesting subject you raised...because not much mention is made about peat here in Oz.

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  5. I love the smell of Peats or TURF as we call them over here similarly as the scent of wood. It goes back to when I lived in Somerset UK and when I worked in Bath. That after a long day in the drawing office of riding home on a dark night and knowing where I was by the types of fuel being burnt; something you don't experience when in a car.
    Turf briquettes moulded by Bord na Mona are still our main fuel today.

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    1. Gosh, Heron, you even have a Board looking after the peat reserves in Ireland. That's good. The peat on the Island was at one time destined for a peat-fired power station but that idea never got off the ground. Now there is virtually no peat extraction or use for any purpose.

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  6. We never used peat here so I find your post interesting. You'd never find any peat here as it's too dry. We do have surface coal and it was used at one time.

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    1. No, Red. Presumably it's either coal or plentiful supplies of wood if a solid fuel is needed.

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  7. I've had a small old 'cream coloured' Aga, and I now have a deVille. Both wonderful.

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    1. Yes, Cro, the cream one was infinitely to be preferred to the blue one.

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  8. I have never had anything to do with peat though I see it for sale in the filling station. Looks hard work.

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    1. Is that peat for garden use or for burning, Adrian?

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    2. Burning I assume as it's next to the logs and coal.

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  9. Is it 'owned' by anyone and do the families have to pay for what they take? I just can't imagine this resourse being without bureaucracy. Look forward to Part 2.

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    1. Potty, the peat is, technically, owned by the estate that owns the land. However the only 'bureaucracy' involved is getting permission from the local Township Grazings Committee (a community body not a government one) and the payment of a nominal fee to them. Theses days I suspect even that is all dispensed with because so few people cut peats.

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    2. Who's a silly sod then for asking?

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    3. Potty I don't think it was a silly question at all. Let's face it there's precious little that isn't swathed in bureaucracy these days. Mind you if you fell out with the Grazings Committee then I'm sure they could find plenty.

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  10. We don't have peat (as far as I know) but we do have peat moss. Does that count?

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    1. I suspect, Bob, that if you have peat moss then underneath it you have peat. Peat is used extensively in the UK for compost which is sold in garden centres etc. Much of that comes from peat mosses.

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  11. I know nothing of peat but I am proud to say I have once cooked on a wood fired Rayburn! As a city girl I really never came into contact with such a large stove but then a friend of mine bought a country property, broke her leg in a tangle with a cow and was out of action for months. I got to cook on the Rayburn when I went to give them a hand for a weekend.
    I like the blue but then I am addicted to colour

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    1. Yes, Kylie, Raeburn stoves were (and doubtless still are) wonderful when it comes to cooking and heating.

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  12. My dad's name was Pete, but that's a whole different story.

    I love the smell of burning peat... and my favorite way to enjoy peat is in a nice single malt Scotch! A lovely bartender in Stornoway back in the 1980s introduced me to the joys of "peaty single malt".... and then I had a plateful of buttery Scottish scallops that were bigger than any I'd ever seen, and so sweet.... ahhhhhh.... Scotland!

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    1. Yes, Mrs S. People do not, generally speaking, immolate their dads. Laphroaig is a wonderful peaty Islay single malt. I'm not a whiskey drinker but I do enjoy the occasional Laphroaig.

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    2. Actually, that's exactly what we did. After he was dead, though. *wink*

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  13. Interesting to see the peat banks. I don't think I've seen photos before, only read about them. - Hm, on second thought, I went to check Peter May's photo book from Lewis and of course there are some photos of peat bogs in there. But they don't show the actual cutting edges as clearly as your photo does. (I suppose because, as you say, not so much peat is being cut these days...)

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    1. Hopefully, Monica, in Part 2 the photo will give you even more detail - Adrian has tweaked.

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  14. Interesting. I have always felt that peat cutting might be rather un-eco friendly ... although in many communities I think it was the only thing to burn for warmth and cooking... so whether it was eco friendly or not would be somewhat irrelevant. And, to be honest, there's an awful lot of it around for people to use.... I wonder what was left after the peat was taken away. Was it bare rock? Perhaps you will tell us in your next post!

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    1. Jenny, Most of the peat reserves on Lewis are exceptionally deep (up to 20 metres in some areas I'm led to believe) and the main limitation would not be a rock bed but perhaps the area turning into a lake. In Harris the amount and depth of peat is less. Much of the Uists are relatively low lying but in the peat areas I should think that the depth is considerable.

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  15. wow I"ve never seen burning with peat, kind of suggests my ancestor in scotland used the same method too. btw that blue, it kinda looks like duck egg blue maybe?

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    1. Amy I seem to remember that most of New Zealand's peat reserves are in South Island where there is also a lot of coal and, as coal is of a much greater calorific value, I expect it was always the preferred fuel. It's a very interesting area though. I might explore that. Yes. I think it is duck egg blue now that you mention it.

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  16. NZ coal is not very 'good' and so we send it away to China, and buy in better coal. *sigh*

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    1. Kate, the world of economics always a very strange one.

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