One of my random memories of childhood visits to Shetland is the peat-cutting tools that were displayed on the wall of a relative’s house in Lerwick.
Bob, my relative, appeared ancient to me at the time, although I guess he would probably only have been in his mid-sixties. Like most men back then, he always appeared to be dressed in the same suit and flat cap, albeit invariably pimped-up by a Shetland wool jumper (even in the middle of summer). Despite him patiently taking each peat-cutting implement in turn down from the wall and explaining and demonstrating what it was for, I’ve long since shamefully forgotten everything he said: although I do remember his enthusiasm, knowledge and pride.
The peat that he and most other locals cut was used for heating their own homes. If you’ve not encountered peat being burnt, it has — not surprisingly — a very distinctive smoked-earth smell that never fails to evoke those long-lost childhood days for me. Visiting the working old Crofthouse Museum is always worth it since they usually have a peat fire burning, and smoking, in the fireplace.
In the springtime, you can still see peat drying in the fields beside the roads, but it’s done on a small-scale, sustainable way to meet locals’ needs.
I was reminded of all this when I recently came across a Shetland with Laurie blog post: it provides a good insight into the role of peat and peat-cutting.
Perhaps more importantly, the Lerwick Brewery named a beer after one of the peat-cutting tools, the tushkar, and very nice it is too! I always appreciate a well-made dark beer … (he hints). You can read more about it here.