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Glenbuchat Heritage

4 Kilns: The Peat Mosses
The Glenbuchat Image Library
4 Kilns: The Peat Mosses

Pictures above:
Working the peat mosses at Creag an Sgor Glenbuchat and delivering the peats.

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The Peat Mosses

The huge annual expenditure u- manual labour involved in converting limestone to lime had one purpose - to improve the soil's fertility in order to produce higher yields of crops. Today, it is largely forgotten that in the 18th and 19th centuries the casting and carting of peat and quarrying and burning of limestone took up a large part of the farming year in the summer months between sowing and harvesting.

Peat, as a source of fuel for domestic use - cooking and heating, and for burning limestone - was plentiful and relatively easily accessible in Strathdon and Glenbuchat. Mosses next to the settlements, farms and quarries were dug from early times and were the first to be worked out, with the cleared ground often incorporated into the land of the farms. There was an unlimited source of hill peat further afield however, and by the 19th century the main peat mosses of the area were high up on the hillsides of the glens.
In Glenbuchat, there were local mosses next to the limestone workings at the Balloch and near the clachan of Beltimore. The main moss was on the hill of Creag an Sgor, and vast areas of peat have been cleared from there over the centuries and until recent times. Strathdon had numerous peat mosses on the various estates of the parish, either worked individually. such as die moss used by the tenant of Ordarff at the back of Cairn Mor, or by a group of tenants, Brander Moss on Carndhub, for example, was worked by tenants of Candacraig Estate from both Corgarff and Glen Conrie. There were small mosses on Monagowan between Conrieside and Carvieside and at Shannach Moss in Glen Ernan. Each tenant had his own peat bank (lair) at the moss, which in some cases was worked for decades, or even generations by the same family. Some estates, such as Candacraig and Glenbuchat, appointed a Moss Grieve to oversee the operation of the larger mosses.

The months of May and June, after sowing and before hay making, were the time for casting the peats. Methods of extracting it from the moss varied from locality to locality. In Glenbuchat, slabs of peat were cast from the vertical face of the peat bank directly on to a peat sledge (or peat barrow) using a narrow spade with an upright blade called a 'tusker'. When loaded, the sledge was pulled clear to an open area of ground and tipped over. The wet peats were individually spread out using a graip or fork, and once partially dried were turned over to allow the underside to dry. A final stage was to set up the partially dry pears in groups of 5 or 6 for the wind to finish the process. The drying procedure could take from a week or two to a few months, depending on the wetness of the season and it was often later in the year before they were sufficiently dry to cart home. Once dry, the peats were loaded into a box cart and driven home to be stacked next to the limekiln or, if intended for domestic use, close to the farmhouse, or in a peat shed.

In recent years the annual task of peat cutting has finally died out on Upper Donside. Mr. Willie Grey, farmer at The Luib was the last to ‘work the moss’ in the Corgarff district in 1996. In Glenbuchat, it ended with the death of the last crofter in the Glen, , Mr. Willie Farquharson in 1998. Peat cutting came to an end for some of the same reasons as limestone burning had declined more than a century earlier, but mainly because the large amount of time and labour required for the procedure could not be justified when access to alternative, more convenient sources of fuel (and lime) became available.

Transport Problems

Before the building of the turnpike road system on Donside in the early 19th century and the general improvement in estate roads, the use of lime was restricted to those local areas where limestone and peat were available. Few carts were in use before the later part of the 18th century, and it was not practical to carry lime for agricultural purposes more than four or five miles overland by pack horse. There is a record of Sir Archibald Grant, the laird of that well-documented and most famous of North East improved estates, Monymusk on lower Donside, transporting lime from Glenbuchat to use on his lands in the middle of the 18th century, but this was an uneconomic exception. As late as 1794, when agricultural improvements were advancing on many Aberdeenshire estates, and despite the enforcement of the Statute Labour laws on compulsory road building, James Anderson. in his gloomy survey of the state of the county‘s agriculture for the Board of Agriculture, noted that the roads were so bad that lime for agricultural use could not be carried far from the quarry, and this was holding back improvements:

‘Yet without lime they (farmers) must in great measure lease benefit of their own dung, and be for ever precluded from that rotation or meliorating (improving) crops of which they have heard so much about, and felt so little’.

However, help was soon at hand, at least for some inland areas. On lower Donside the opening of the Aberdeenshire Canal after 1805, from Aberdeen harbour to Port Elphinstone, Inverurie, opened up the Garioch and surrounding districts to the import of lime, brought by ship to Aberdeen from commercial coastal quarries such as Lord Elgin's lime works at Charleston on the Firth of Forth and from Sunderland in north east England. Further up Donside, farmers in the Howe of Alford carted lime directly from the harbour at Aberdeen in the late 18th century despite the poor conditions of the country roads. But on Upper Donside, the farms in the parishes of Kildrummy and Towie appear to have been too remote to benefit from either the canal or lime transported by road from Aberdeen and had to obtain an unreliable supply from neighbouring parishes.

Lime for Building Work

Lime for use in building work was carried longer distances on horseback, but this was in comparatively much smaller quantities and mainly used for the better quality buildings of the gentry and kirk. Glenbuchat Castle and Glenbuchat Parish church and manse were stone built with lime mortar, harled and lime washed. Locally produced lime had the impurities of under and over burnt limestone and peat ash mixed through it and as buildings became grander purer material was required, particularly for internal plaster work. In 1811 a writer mentions the transport of high purity lime, probably for a mansion house, from the quarries at Ardonald in Cairnie:
‘It is so valuable for cement and plaister that it has been carried above 30 miles to the parish of Strathdon.'

The Duff House papers contain a receipt for the supply of an exceptionally large quantity of local lime from Badenyon Farm in upper Glenbuchat for the reconstruction of Glenbuchat Kirk in 1769, approximately 3 miles distant:
'Inverernan Sept 26th 1770 Then received by me Robert Michie in Badnoain from John Forbes Factor to the Earl of Fife the sum of ten pounds nineteen shillings sterling for the number and quantity of three hundred and thirty five boils of lime contained in two separate receipts of James Tom’s, (Ground) officier, furnished by me and Alexn. Michie my brother for the Kirk of Glenbucket, therefore the said John Forbes and all other are discharged for the price of the above quantity of lime by (signed) Robert Michie’ The price of the lime seven pence half pennie each boll (initialled) R M.’

And again, from estate papers for the detached portion of Tarland parish situated in Strathdon:
‘Tarland 5th August 1755. Received from the lands of Skellater belonging to the Parish of Tarland fourteen boils, two pecks and one havish of lime due by the said lands to Mr Maitland Minister of Tarland for repairing Mr Maitland’s Manse and other Office Houses which shall be allowed at counting betwixt William Forbes Esq. and the said Mr Maitland by William Alanach.'

As for the tenant's dwellings, Fife Estates were notorious for not constructing houses or farm buildings on their properties. The tenants built their own houses and steadings, the best of them of stone and clay, with the outer walls pointed with the more waterproof lime mortar. A report from the Ground Office of Glenbuchat Estate in 1783 on the condition of the tenant's buildings, possibly to assess the laird's liability for paying compensation for suitably constructed buildings when their leases expired, indicated that with an estimated 450 inhabitants, just 12 dwellings and a few farm steadings had been built using stone and lime. The laird need not have been concerned however as most of these were in various states of disrepair. Houses at Milton, Delfrankie, Kirkton and a house and barns at Beltimore were in good condition, ‘snaik pinned with lime'(pointed) and heather thatched. A house at Auchavaich Dulax and Crofts had stone and lime built houses ‘but the lime has worn off and is scarcely discernable'. Three houses: at Netherton, Ballochduie and another unnamed were partially stone and lime built but the top two courses of the walls were made of turf. The report ended:
‘which is all that are pinned with lime in the country (district) the rest are generally very bad, composed of feal (turf) and thatched with divott.’

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Picture added on 06 August 2015 at 18:08
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