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TITLE
Peat Cutting, Portnalong, Isle of Skye
EXTERNAL ID
SLD_182_061
PLACENAME
Portnalong
DISTRICT
Skye
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
INVERNESS: Bracadale
PERIOD
1970s; 1980s
CREATOR
Olivia James
SOURCE
Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre
ASSET ID
39506
KEYWORDS
peat bank
peats
crofting
crofters
peat cutting
peat bog
Cuillins
Peat Cutting, Portnalong, Isle of Skye

A crofter carries a load of peats towards the road to Portnalong on Skye's west coast; the jagged peaks of the Cuillin can be seen in the background. The other stacks of peat belong to neighbours. The peat banks are often sited some distance from the croft house but close to a road or track for easy access. Nowadays the use of modern transport makes lighter work of moving the fuel.

Peat is formed over centuries from partially decomposed plants in acidic, wet conditions, the matter becoming compressed by its own weight and moisture and eventually becoming partly carbonised. Despite increasing by only about 0.5mm per year, peat bogs can eventually reach depths of up to 10 metres.

Peat was the only source of fuel in areas devoid of woodland or scrub and was used throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The peat banks are often some distance from the crofters' homes and strenuous effort is required to cut sufficient blocks to last the winter. A croft house reliant solely on peat for fuel would use between 15,000 and 18,000 peats a year.

Cutting begins in spring to make the most of the drying time during the summer. Brick-shaped pieces are cut from the peat bog using a specialised, often homemade, spade and then laid out to dry. Peat is made up of about 90% water so it has to be left to drain and partially dry close to where it is cut to reduce the weight. Each area, and sometimes family, would have its own method of drying the peats. Sometimes they were stacked in fours with two more on top, sometimes in threes like a tent. After a few weeks, depending on the weather, the lighter, harder peats would be taken to the croft house where they would be built neatly in large stacks some two metres high and designed to withstand storms and keep out the rain.


Olivia James
The images in this collection are a selection from a set of high quality Agfachrome slides taken by Olivia James. Mrs James, a semi-professional photographer, took the photographs on visits to Skye between 1968 and 1989, using a Pentax S1A camera and CT 18 film. They record a variety of locations, people and activities which have now changed or indeed disappeared, and provide one person's view of the island through the camera lens. Born in Elderslie, Renfrewshire on 26th April 1932, Olive Grace James (née Purcell) moved to England in 1944, trained as a teacher and married Richard James in 1956. Her husband's forbears were from Skye and they began visiting on a regular basis in 1968. In addition to the slides, Mrs James has written an evocative account of her memories of places, events and people on Skye which she named 'Skye Magic', a copy of which is held at the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre.
'Skye Magic' has been incorporated into her privately printed autobiography 'Neivie, Neivie, Nick, Nack' which she has kindly donated to various institutions including the Clan Donald Library on Skye, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and the Weaver's Cottage, Kilbarchan.


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Skye and Lochalsh Archives

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Peat Cutting, Portnalong, Isle of Skye

INVERNESS: Bracadale

1970s; 1980s

peat bank; peats; crofting; crofters; peat cutting; peat bog; Cuillins

Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre

Olivia James Collection

A crofter carries a load of peats towards the road to Portnalong on Skye's west coast; the jagged peaks of the Cuillin can be seen in the background. The other stacks of peat belong to neighbours. The peat banks are often sited some distance from the croft house but close to a road or track for easy access. Nowadays the use of modern transport makes lighter work of moving the fuel.<br /> <br /> Peat is formed over centuries from partially decomposed plants in acidic, wet conditions, the matter becoming compressed by its own weight and moisture and eventually becoming partly carbonised. Despite increasing by only about 0.5mm per year, peat bogs can eventually reach depths of up to 10 metres. <br /> <br /> Peat was the only source of fuel in areas devoid of woodland or scrub and was used throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The peat banks are often some distance from the crofters' homes and strenuous effort is required to cut sufficient blocks to last the winter. A croft house reliant solely on peat for fuel would use between 15,000 and 18,000 peats a year.<br /> <br /> Cutting begins in spring to make the most of the drying time during the summer. Brick-shaped pieces are cut from the peat bog using a specialised, often homemade, spade and then laid out to dry. Peat is made up of about 90% water so it has to be left to drain and partially dry close to where it is cut to reduce the weight. Each area, and sometimes family, would have its own method of drying the peats. Sometimes they were stacked in fours with two more on top, sometimes in threes like a tent. After a few weeks, depending on the weather, the lighter, harder peats would be taken to the croft house where they would be built neatly in large stacks some two metres high and designed to withstand storms and keep out the rain.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>Olivia James</b><br /> The images in this collection are a selection from a set of high quality Agfachrome slides taken by Olivia James. Mrs James, a semi-professional photographer, took the photographs on visits to Skye between 1968 and 1989, using a Pentax S1A camera and CT 18 film. They record a variety of locations, people and activities which have now changed or indeed disappeared, and provide one person's view of the island through the camera lens. Born in Elderslie, Renfrewshire on 26th April 1932, Olive Grace James (née Purcell) moved to England in 1944, trained as a teacher and married Richard James in 1956. Her husband's forbears were from Skye and they began visiting on a regular basis in 1968. In addition to the slides, Mrs James has written an evocative account of her memories of places, events and people on Skye which she named 'Skye Magic', a copy of which is held at the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre.<br /> 'Skye Magic' has been incorporated into her privately printed autobiography 'Neivie, Neivie, Nick, Nack' which she has kindly donated to various institutions including the Clan Donald Library on Skye, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and the Weaver's Cottage, Kilbarchan. <br /> <br /> <br /> This image may be available to purchase.<br /> For further information about purchasing and prices please email<br /> <a href="mailto: skyeandlochalsh.archives@highlifehighland.com ">Skye and Lochalsh Archives</a>