A look back at 2013

As 2013 draws to an end, I thought I would do that typical thing of looking back at the year.
It wasn’t the easiest of years on the croft, with many more losses over the last winter and my lamb prices being lower than previous years, but it was still an enjoyable one. It’s been another busy year, with a full time job, playing in goal for Ness F.C., vice-chair of the Social Club and my freelance media commitments.
I’ve gone through my blog posts and chosen my favourite ones. I have chosen them because I liked them or because I think they are important for one reason or another.
Thanks for reading!

My first one is from January and is a video of Bud struggling to come to terms with the laminate flooring in the kitchen.

In February, I had a Buzzard attack some of my chickens. I haven’t chosen the post about the attack, but I’ve chosen the video I managed to get of the Buzzard returning a couple of days later, enticed by a chicken I had to cull. I think this was the single most viewed post in 2013, with thousands of views on facebook.
Easter is my favourite time of year; lambing is usually in full swing and the local football season starts! Love it. Here are a couple of my lambing related posts, including Lasarusina, the lamb that came back from the brink of death (I kept her, she’s a beaut)

I also used my incubator for the first time, it wasn’t as successful as I wished, but at least I got some chicks out of it.
May is peat-cutting season, this year a group of us helped a neighbour who wasn’t able to cut his own. A very enjoyable evening for all of us.
Now, I fancy myself as a bit of an amateur photographer and was quite chuffed with myself for getting these pictures of a cuckoo – a bird I had never actually seen in the flesh before, despite hearing them all my life.
Every now and again, something happens that reminds you how susceptible livestock are. In June, one of my older ewes had her eye removed by a black-backed gull. Don’t look if you’re too squeamish. The sheep is fine, and still with us.
My egg-laying empire took a big step forward this year, with the introduction of my new hen house. I had to assemble it myself and I also got a 60% CCAGS grant for it (which I am still to claim), otherwise it wouldn’t have been viable.
I ended up with an extra cat for a few days in September (can’t believe it was that long ago). She was a stray but has successfully been rehomed, elsewhere in Ness.
One of the most important acts in the crofting year – releasing the rams. This needs no further explanation!

Helping with the peats

Tonight’s post is maybe going to be a wee bit more in depth than I first thought. I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it, but several people have tweeted me in the last few days, asking me to blog about it.

One of the men in our village, Donnie, hasn’t been well recently and isn’t able to cut his peats, so a squad of us went out tonight to cut them for him.

Here is Donnie at the sheep dipping last October, he’s in the orange trousers and the green jacket.


6 of us went out tonight, with 3 taraisgeirs, and managed to get it all done in around 3 hours.

The banks hasn’t been turfed either, so it was all from scratch.


The time flew by, to be honest. Loads of stories being told but few are suitable for a PG audience!

We had, how can I put it, an eclectic mix of folk out tonight. 6 men, but with all their different hats we had 2 Harris Tweed weavers, a fishmonger, Guga Hunter, Yoga Instructor, tv presenter, BT engineer, crofters and a labourer. Multi-talented or what!!


Everyone is from North Dell, apart from Dods, who is from South Dell. I’m not sure what story Dods was telling us here, but I’m sure it was a funny one!


It didn’t take us long to get through everything, though. All done for a few weeks, before we have to lift them.


Now this brings me to the reason I’m writing this post; why do it?

The question is, why not? It’s a no-brainer for any sensible person.

A community isn’t something you can form by bringing together like-minded people, or holding a get together in a hall. It’s a lot more than that. It’s helping your neighbour without expecting anything in return, it’s biting your tongue when you know you’ve got to work together, it’s working together to a common goal. I don’t think it’s something you can manufacture at all.

I like to think it’s one thing we’re really good at in Ness, a lot to do with the fact that we have a strong identity as Niseachs and you’ll find a lot of us are proud to be from here.

I managed to find this picture from several years ago, I’m pretty sure Dods took the photo. It shows a much larger squad cutting the peats of a young family who lost their mother to a terminal illness several years ago. A picture speaks a thousand words.


Nice day on the moor

I was out on the moor yesterday with the sheep and seeing as it was a nice day, I took a couple of pictures.

My dad was out too and he went to look for a new site where we can machine cut peats.


I took some pictures of the heather.


This is one of the reasons sheep are sent out to the moor, or why they would have been in the past anyway. They get some minerals from the moor that they don’t get on the crofts, and the heather is also excellent at cleaning their feet. We’ve never had foot problems, despite never giving the sheep a foot-bath.

Here’s a patch of still-frozen heather.


I posted a panoramic picture of Gleann Dail already, but here is a normal one.


More peats….

Yes, all these posts about peats may become a little tiresome – but just imagine how it feels going out there all the time!

The script out there just now, is filling bags with peats and piling them into the trailer!  I think the trailer takes about 30-33 of these 25kg bags, that originally held sheep feeding stuff.

I filled a few bags, but didn’t help with loading them onto the trailer, due to my broken/dislocated finger.  Instead, I got to annoy my father and brother by taking pictures of them!

Think that’s four loads of peats home, maybe another two or three to go.  Getting them home within 3 weeks of them being cut is impressive – I don’t remember us ever doing that before but the weather has been very good and the peats have dried quickly.  They should all be home by the end of the week!

And if you’re going to leave me smart-alex comments about how we could fit more in the trailer, should be using a tarasgeir etc, etc – don’t bother!

No work for a while!

As well as the day job and the croft, I also play in goals for the district football team, Ness F.C.  I had been out injured for a few weeks, having suffered a whiplash injury after landing heavily while making a save.  Due to the way the fixtures worked out, I only missed one game so was quite happy when I made my come-back on Wednesday night.  It didn’t last too long though, I had to go off after half an hour with a dislocated and fractured index finger on my right hand, after an opposing player caught me with his boot.  This is the 3rd time I’ve dislocated a finger and the 8th bone I have broken, so something I’m quite used to!  If it had happened a month or two ago, it would have been a disaster, because I would only have been able to do a fraction of the work that was needed.  It’s frustrating but I’ll only miss out on a few odd-jobs with the sheep and I’m not too fussed about missing out on taking the peats home!!

This is my finger as it is tonight.  Needed 2 x-rays and I was on laughing gas while waiting for it to be popped back in at the hospital!

After lifting the peats last week, the good drying weather means that some of them are ready to take home.  This means that the tractor and trailer will be in action, so the ‘doubles’ had to be put on, before heading out onto the moor.  The ‘doubles’ are just doubling up the large rear wheels, by attaching a second set.  Here are some pictures of my dad and brother Innes fitting them.  Obviously I couldn’t help out!

Next was hooking up the trailer.  My father was driving, with Innes maneuvering the trailer into position

So after getting everything set up, the obvious thing to do was go bring home a load of peats!  Here is Innes and our cousins Iain & James heading out in the trailer.
I was long gone by the time they returned so no picture of that!  Myself and Innes also helped a guy up the road load his wee fishing boat onto it’s trailer tonight, ready for putting to sea for the summer.  Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures!  All I was needed for was putting my shoulder into it and pushing!

a’ togail. Stage 2 of the peats.

For those of you unfamiliar with peats, they are left lying flat on the ground for the first stage of drying, and then built into the wee houses to dry the other side.

Two weeks ago, our peats were cut ( here is the blog posting) and with two weeks great drying weather, they had dried sufficiently for the next stage – lifting.  With the traditional tarasgeir-cut square peats, it’s quite easy to build wee ‘houses’ out of them, to allow the rest of the peat to dry – not as easy with the sausage peats!

I was off work on Friday, so headed out on my own for a while in the morning.  You can see the peats towards the right hand side.

My dad and my brother Innes had been out a couple of evenings during the week, so half of the peats had been lifted.

‘Lifting’ consists of making these wee teepees out of the peats.

Innes working hard.

We didn’t work in silence though – my nice wee wind-up & solar powered radio!

I came across an ants nest under one of the peats.  Ants are not common here, I’ve never seen them anywhere apart from out in the peats.  In this picture, you can see the white eggs/grubs grouped together in the middle.  The ants were busy moving them to safety after they were disturbed.

Didn’t take us long to get them finished.  All done by mid-morning Saturday.  I am relieved by this, because the lifting is my least favourite part of the peats!  If this good weather continues, some of it will be coming home next Saturday.  I don’t mind taking them home because I’ll be on tractor driving duty!

Peat-cutting in the 21st century

Peat was traditionally the fuel that kept island homes warm throughout the long, cold winters.  Families, neighbours and, sometimes, whole villages, would go out to the moor together and cut their peats, using their taraisgeirs tar-ash-kerr (the much more interesting sounding Gaelic for peat iron) to cut each 12-inch square piece of peat by hand.  Things changed a lot in the early 90s, when lots of homes installed oil heating systems.  With heating oil costs having trebled (now around 60-65 pence per litre), many homes are going back to peats.

Our family have always had  fire of some type, but for the last 5 years or so, we’ve switched to machine cut peats, rather than hand cut. My father used to be a fisherman but an accident on his boat in 2005, and also lack of time for many of us, mean that it is the preferred choice for us.

Anyway, the reason for this post is that our peats were cut over the last 24 hours.  A man in Ness spends many of his evenings at this time of year out on the moor with his tractor, harvesting our winter fuel.

Of course, it’s a Lamborghini that we use for our peats in Ness……

The peat-cutting machine is mounted on the back of the tractor.  This picture was taken at the fank in North Dell, with the village in the background

The chain/blade is angled downwards into the earth and works a bit like a chainsaw/conveyor belt.  The blade cuts into the ground and carries the peat up into the rest of the machine.

The peat is the forced out of the other end of the machine, into long sausages – hence why we call them sausage peats!

The peats will be left to dry for a few weeks, and I will blog again on the next stage, once we reach it.