We were in for a treat today although it didn't look like that when we woke up at six this morning. Gale force winds and heavy rains were battering the cottage windows and the weather outlook wasn't very promising either so staying in bed rather than going out was very tempting. We decided however for the latter and soon after breakfast the wind eased somewhat, the rain stopped and we had some pale sunshine here at Persabus. So off we went to the Oa Peninsula on invitation by Rachel MacNeil for a Peat Cutting Workshop at Grianan Croft. We arrived at 11.30 am and met Rachel MacNeil and Huw, a man from Wales who attended the workshop as well. After a boggy walk over the moss we arrived at the peat cutting site where we met Hugh, the owner of the croft.
Before we started off with the "hard labour" of cutting the peats for Hughie's winter supply we had tea, coffee, cakes, homemade bread sandwiches filled with Islay beef or eggs and homemade scones all prepared by Rachel, her mother and friends. While we enjoyed the picnic out on the moss Rachel told us about the backgrounds of the peat, the traditional skills and why peat played and still plays such an important role on Islay, both for whisky and warming homes. The latter doesn't happen much anymore these days although with the high fuel prices some people switch back to burning peat instead of using central heating. Islay has a lot of peat and a quarter of the total surface of Islay consists of peat which is thousands of years old and was formed after the last ice age.
Picnic on the Moor
After our picnic Hugh showed us the "tricks" on how to cut good peats and we soon had a go at it ourselves. I must admit that it's not at all easy to cut good peats and it's quite intensive, especially if you consider that you need to cut a lot of peat to warm your house for the winter. So we practiced for about half an hour and it was good fun. The sun came out every now and then and the light was beautiful from time to time. After our practice run we stacked the peats and after that we had even more coffee, tea and excellent sandwiches. We were out for a total of two hours and we had a fabulous time. Rachel is an excellent and very entertaining host with a lot of knowledge about the island and the people which is an added bonus. It was for us the first time we did this and we enjoyed it so much that we will likely do it again in the future. I can highly recommend this to anyone who is visiting Islay, you're out in nature with some wonderful people and actually learning a typical Islay skill, how cool is that? You can find all the information about this Peat Cutting Workshop and other tours on Rachel's website www.wildandmagicislay.com. More images are available on my Islay Holiday Blog