Freshly Cut Peat Bank, Hebrides

Freshly Cut Peat Bank, Hebrides, Scotland

This evening, I am focusing on peat, an accretion of decayed vegetation which is found in many parts of North-Western Europe. The material can be used as a soil additive for gardens but for the purpose of this post I am focusing on it’s use a fuel, particularly in the Hebrides and Lewis in particular.The ideal conditions for peat to form are:

  • An impermeable rock base with high acidic content.
  • A cool climate.
  • A high rainfall, to the extent that there is a surplus of precipitation over evaporation.

On Lewis, peat is not extracted on a commercial scale but restricted to local residents who are permitted to cut the material for a nominal annual fee on the basis the material is used for private, domestic use (manly fuel).

The cutting of peat is a physically demanding process entailing the following:

  • First, remove the top layer of turf, approximately 12 inches deep. This is known as ‘skinning of the banks’.
  • Then the first layer of peat is cut, this tends to be relatively fibrous and is cut in thin strips.
  • Finally, the lower level is cut. This tends to be rich and black and must be cut in thick layers to prevent splitting when dried.

    Cutting Peat, Outer Hebrides

    Cutting Peat, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Peat Bank, Outer Hebrides

Peat Bank, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

For cutting peat a special tool is used known as a peat iron or ‘tarsgeir’

The optimum time for peat cutting is during the Spring. After initial drying out after about two weeks the peat slabs are positioned on edge, sometimes like small wigwams, for further drying which may take another two or three weeks. After this drying period the peat is collected and transported to the islander’s home for use as fuel in open fires or multi-fuel central heating systems.

Stage 1 Drying of Peat, Outer Hebrides

Stage 1 Drying of Peat, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Stage 2 Peat Drying, Lewis

Stage 2 Peat Drying, Lewis, Hebrides

Stage 3 Peat Cutting, Outer Hebrides

Stage 3 Peat Cutting, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Peat cutting activity tends to move in direct correlation with the oil price.

In the course of a recent tour, I managed to have some of my guests engage in peat cutting.

Tour Guests Cutting Peat, Isle of Lewis

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