Peat cutting is a way of life.
When you live on a windswept Scottish island like that of Lewis and Harris or Shetland you use whatever you can to keep warm. The use of Peat and Peat cutting is still used today even though it has a definite environmental and biological implication. Given that the alternative for residents is to freeze or eat cold food their argument is that the amount they take is nominal. Peat is cut from the land and stored to dry. Once it is dry it is then burnt. Traditionally this was on an open fire in a stone and wood Blackhouse. The smoke from the peat, whist very pungent, would coat the inside of the roof with a sticky residue that acted as a waterproof sealant. In modern times it is not uncommon to see peat being cut and used in open and closed fires in Highland and Island homes. The arrival of coal, oil burners and natural gas has mainly replaced this but with such a readily available fuel source at hand it’s not unusual to see the locals take advantage. It has been a natural fuel source for many years and is often used in open fires alongside central heating systems. It is important to keep any system up and running and if you are looking for a Gloucester Boiler Service then Click here for more information.
Water is forced out of peat due to pressure. This makes it attractive as it can be cut from the earth and the thin grass layer removed so that a thick square wedge of peat remains. This can then be dried out and used for fuel. It was seen as a gift from the Gods to the people of the Highlands and Islands due to the sparseness of timber. Using the Isles of Lewis as an example, Trees, even hardy Evergreen Firs, struggle in the environment. The soil’s peatiness itself does not lend itself to growth and this combined with the strong sea salt laden winds from the Atlantic to the West and the Minch to the East make growing them near impossible. Much of Lewis is rocky but they can be little protection from the wind due to its exposure.
Peat is a necessity but it can cause problems. The smoke in the enclosed Blackhouse is thought to promote breathing problems and in times of drought a peatland fire is wild and uncontrollable. It is also very difficult to build upon as the water underneath the peat shifts constantly. One of the most incredible engineering examples of overcoming this is the West Highland Railway line across Rannoch Moor. This Victorian undertaking has the tracks floating on a natural bed of tree roots and an earth an ash mixture.