stacking the peats


Stacks of peats reach for the sky, as Skye and Rona look on in the distance, across the Inner Sound.

Yesterday, I took a break from the studio and spent a couple of hours up on the hill gathering and stacking peat, to help a neighbour, in readiness for the winter…. until we were driven home, when midges descended in clouds around us.



The majestic Black Cuillin watch over us, offering no comment, as we gather and build our modest, peaty castles.





They march inland and upwards in this featureless and vast area of peaty bog, grasses and heather, known locally as “the backs”, which stretch out in a seemingly endless expanse towards Baosbheinn. My guess is that the nickname is quite possibly the origin of the colonial expressions “outback” from Australia and “back 50” and similar, in Canada and the US.



When removed, the peat layer is like rich, dark, dense, wet chocolate slabs.  Stacking and turning are essential, to let the winds dry out the sticks.  As they dry, their weight declines dramatically but, even so, I can attest to the physical effort still needed to haul dried peats over hundreds of yards of undulating peat bog, hopping from hummock to hummock to avoid the wettest areas.
The peat warms you so many times:  in its cutting, then stacking; in its turning, to ensure the drying process.  Then, taking it off the hill, getting it home, storing and stacking again and, finally, as it nestles in the hearth, when it renders up its heat and sublime smoky scent and gifts you a memory of summers past.
All credit to our good neighbour who started the process and will see it through its many stages.  It is an honour to be a small part of that tradition, stacking peats which first saw light so long ago. Warmth is an essential and all that back-breaking effort is necessary – a reminder that we now live in sedentary times, and take so many basic things for granted.

The earth has given up a bounty which will warm the hearth and the heart.






The Minch lies becalmed, as what remains of the bog cotton continues to dance in the (slight) breeze.


Rona and its lighthouse punctuate the Inner Sound, with Skye beyond.





Startled by my visit, the sheep linger close to the headland until one reminds the others that they are not lemmings.





Off the north tip of Skye, the Isles Eilean Trodday, Fladaigh Chuain, Gaeilavore and Lord Macdonald’s Table seem to lie low and contentedly in the calm waters of the Minch.

As do the quietly glorious Shiant Isles, below.



4 thoughts on “stacking the peats

  1. Thank you for this lovely story Alison. And yes it does remind us what our ancestors had to do simply to have heat. We take so much for granted…

  2. Beautiful! Just back from a quick tour of the peat bogs on the Outer Hebrides; this adds context, impact to what I was seeing.

    1. Oh Liz, thank you! The manner and traditions of lifting/digging the peats varies from place to place, I’m sure that must have been fascinating. Isn’t it wonderful that the tradition is being kept alive and is still so necessary and very much a social thing.

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