Saturday, December 01, 2007

When I bought this croft, in November of last year, the house had lain unoccupied for three or four years. The elderly lady who lived here had become frail and moved into a care home on the island, where sadly, she died at almost exactly the same time I arrived here. She and her late husband had built the house themselves in the 1930's following their marriage and raised their children here. When it was constructed, there were no local builders and each crofter built his own home with the help of family and neighbours who had building skills. Much of the stone for the house came from the remains of the old 'black house' or thatched cottage, on the croft, which the family had lived in previously. This house was a vast improvement, with a slated roof, sanitation and more space. The family I purchased the croft from had owned it continually since the house was new and this is the first time it has ever been sold. The property came with all of its contents and I have kept some household goods to maintain links with the previous owners. There are some interesting old crofting tools in the loom shed. Until recently, when oil central heating became widely available, almost every family here would have cut peat on the moor for fuel to heat the house and to cook with. Each croft has its own peat bank to this day and I will use mine next year.The peat is cut in April and May and then left to dry on the peat banks for several months, before being taken home to the croft for stacking and use in winter. A tool called a peat iron is used to cut the peat and the peat irons belonging to this croft were left in my shed and are still in reasonable condition, considering that they may be a hundred or so years old. I intend to keep them in good order and use them to cut peats next Spring for my own stove. All of the wooden handled croft tools, and the horns of the sheep, were stamped with a branding iron, which had the house number and village stamped on it and was used to identify tools and sheep belonging to this croft. The two branding irons are also in the shed and like the peat irons, are irreplaceable pieces of social history.

Since writing in an earlier blog about my ambition to take the plane and land on the beach at Barra, controversy seems to have arisen about the suitability of the beach as a landing strip. The advantages of it are that the pilots can approach from several different directions depending on the weather and the arrival of the plane has become a great tourist attraction in recent years. The beach is lovely, in a beautiful setting and throughout the year, visitors and locals will sit and use the cafe at the terminal whilst listening for the the plane's approach over the hills before it makes its final descent. There is much affection on the island for the beach runway and many residents consider things should be left as they are. However, the local Member for the Scottish Parliament seems to be behind a campaign to get rid of the beach landing strip and to build a hard runway somewhere on Barra or the neighbouring island of Vatersay, which is attached to Barra by a permanent causeway. Her reasoning is that as current plane arrival times are ruled by the tides, it is difficult to integrate the Barra plane with other flights. She claims that a hard runway would allow a fixed timetable to coincide with other planes and encourage 'the wider economic development of Barra'. Many people consider the beach landing strip to be a wonderful asset to Barra with far more advantages than disadvantages and I don't think the community will give it up easily. Who knows though? Watch this space.

1 comment:

Toodles said...

Valtos ... a fab place to be!
We have many very memorable happy times in Valtos, sea kayaking, dining, drinking, meeting new peole, going to the Ceili, shopping in the Uig Community Shop

From your photo, I can see the lovely cottage we rented on several occasions, its placed high on that hill, many an enjoyable early morn was spent there enjoying the Craic with locals Ann & Calum! Hope to visit Valtos again, Slainte