Turf Cutting

8 March 2023

For centuries turf/peat was the main source of fuel. Most farmers had turf banks either on their own land or had turbary rights to cut turf on the peatland at the top of the glen. Turf was cut in April/May depending on the weather. A very familiar term used locally was “going to the moss.”   It took three men to cut the turf bank, one to cut the turf with a special tool known as a turf spade, another to catch the sods and place them on top of the bank and a third person to wheel them away and spread them out to dry.

Flatcher Spade for removing the top sod of the bank 

It was heavy and laborious work, a basket containing “eats” was always brought along. A fire would be lit and a kettle of water boiled to make tea. This was considered the best part of the day. Neighbours would gather around and heated discussions took place about the price of livestock and local gossip was the order of the day. Depending on the weather about a week or two later the turf would be footed, that is placed on their end in a triangular fashion to allow the wind to dry them and then they might be put in castles which were bigger clumps. When dry they would be brought to the road side and built into stacks or drawn home. Most banks were not close to the road and getting the turf out was a major task. In times gone by a horse drawing a slipe was the norm, otherwise they had to be carried. Now quads or, if the terrain allows, tractors are used. 

Machine cut turf

From the mid 20th century things began to change. People were no longer dependent on turf; coal and oil were considered a cheaper form of fuel with no labour needed. Turf continues to be cut but not on such a large scale. Nowadays, turf is cut by large machines operated by agricultural contractors, though they still have to be handled manually to dry them. Whilst machinery is labour saving it causes damage to the bog and environmental issues are a consideration. Now peatland is recognised to have a finely balanced eco system and is regarded as an extremely efficient holder of carbon (CO2). As climate change affects our planet, peat bogs are considered one of our finest treasures, and efforts are being made to retain and restore them.