[This new page is ‘Under Construction’]
Croft 11 Bun-a-Mhuillin, on the nearby island of Eriskay – is a long narrow strip of land, totalling 6.25 hectares (about 17 acres), running from the rocky north shore of the island for about half a mile to the rocky buttresses of Beinn Sgiathan, Eriskay’s highest point.
Here’s an interactive map of the croft boundaries, with details of its fields and features. [This is a top priority work-in-progress]
From the shore and southwards as far as An Rathad Ur [ The New Road – built in 1957 ] – the ‘lower croft’ – is the most productive part of the croft, with better quality grazing and almost all of the other key resources. These are :
- The Carrick [ a’ Charraig – which means ‘The Rock’ ] : The eco croft house we built 2008-2009 and which we let out as a self-catering holiday cottage, Carrick – The Blue House). The house is the most valuable asset on the croft.
- The Steading. First and foremost, this means The Croft Store, which was built in 2008 of concrete block walls, timber trusses and with a corrugated steel roof, built at the same time as Carrick, and used both for storing animal feed and small machinery. This area includes a storage yard, and the 4kW photo-voltaic array that is fed into the grid via the Croft Store and from there back to The Carrick. There’s a possibility of getting planning approval to a change of use for The Steading, from agricultural to residential – and to attach it to garden ground of The Carrick. That’s what we would do if we were to move home to Carrick.
- The Creek : a ‘valley’ in miniature that’s been planted with a lot of native trees, but otherwise is being left for Mother Nature to reveal, over the years, what natural vegetation and wildlife best suits the valley, and vice versa. The results are already very encouraging!
- The Valley
- Field 1 – what’s left from this lower section of the croft, after deducting everything listed above from the lower croft.
The first animals introduced to our croft were Embden geese, the first raised in an incubator, and then left pretty much to their own devices, ranging freely over the lower croft and along the shore. In spring they provide a limited supply of huge and very tasty eggs ; in summer they produce goslings ; and in autumn the freezer is re-stocked with goose. In 2020 a young gander led a coup against the flock leader (Mr Jackson), and eventually drove off all the others except one meek and young goose, the two being absolutely devoted to one another. We call them Mr & Mrs MacGregor (as in The Tale of Peter Rabbit). He’s guards her jealously, with a lot of hissing and wing-spreading, but he’s not agressive towards humans – as long as they mind their own business! Alas, Mrs MacGregor seems to be infertile : she produces very few eggs, and she doesn’t persist with her nest-sitting ; so there’s no goose eggs or goose for us! Whether or not to ‘re-stock’ with geese is a question we’ll leave to our successors to consider.
Above the ‘new’ road (built in the 1950s) and up to the hill fence the croft heather, grasses and low-growing herbs, and – especially in spring and early summer – wild flowers, orchids, and amongst these many ground-nesting birds. In Eriskay, crofts have not been fenced other than a few small fields close to some of the croft houses : the costs were high ; the benefits were uncertain. However, our economic ‘model’ has been different : instead of simply raising animals to take to the market for others to finish, slaughter, process and retail, we would be selling a niche product direct to self-selecting appreciative consumers. It’s an approach that worked very well for us. But times are changing again : the world urgently needs less animals, more carbon-absorbing vegetation, especially trees. !
It’s a well-worn argument that growing cereals to feed to animals in order to eat meat is both inefficient and harmful to the environment. It’s an argument that we entirely agree with. However, here in the islands, the climate and soils are completely unsuitable for growing cereals, but what grows here exceptionally well is grass, heather and other coarse vegetation that humans can’t eat, but cattle and sheep can. Nonetheless, whilst we might be justified in continuing to produce high quality environmentally sustainable meat for a niche market, the fact is that grazing sheep can quickly reduce diversity to desert. So, for the past few years, we have been working to reduce the number of sheep and greatly increase the area of the croft
In 2012 we enclosed between the new and old roads – and then in 2013 we completed a third field, from the old or high road (an rathaìd àrd) to half way to the hill fence. By 2018, Field 4 was enclosed, and we immediately turned our aAlthough very expensive – and absolutely exhausting work, investment in these fences is the key to making the croft productive and economically relevant in today’s world. Work on the uppermost field – High Field – was virtually complete by 2018, but by then a much older length of fence on the east side of Carrick’s garden was falling down, and we started work on replacing it : we also started work on erecting fence around the croft store and yard, and many other minor changes and improvements. Lesson learned : fencing is not a one-off investmentThe three new fields between the ‘new’ road and the hill fence – together amounting to three-quarters of the total area, will enclose our flock of pedigree Hebridean sheep which we now keep solely for their black wool. Being native to the islands and very hardy, they are ideally suited to the extreme conditions here – which are not so much cold as stormy.
The slower maturing of this ancient breed, combined with the completely natural grazing, gives incomparable flavour and texture to the meat, whilst the lack of need for routine treatment with medicines, makes it naturally organic and healthy. Alas, we stopped production of lambs in 2018, the sale of meat in 2019, and we savoured the very last of he remaining frozen hogget lamb in summer 2020 – full of flavour, tender, and profoundly satisfying to the very last mouthful.