Monday, 8 February 2010

Smoke gets in your eyes......

At last my favourite time of the crofting year has arrived. As soon as the year has turned and we get a few days of a drying south-easterly wind, it is time to start muir-burning - also called "falaisgean" in Gaelic.
Left to itself, the ling heather would grow very tall - up to four feet - and underneath its canopy the soil would be starved of light and nutrients so nothing would grow. The cover would also hide holes in the peat soil which would be dangerous to both stock and people walking on the moors. In nature, every so often lightning would spark off a fire that would burn the heather to the ground, re-vitalising the earth and opening it up to the light again. The heather wouldn't die, it would start to sprout again close to the ground but grass would also grow, thus providing good grazing for the animals.
On the common grazings we mimic nature by burning roughly 1/10th of the land every year to give it a new lease of life. The burning season ends in mid-April when the ground-nesting birds start laying, so there is no danger to wildlife.

Of course, we do have to take care that the wind direction and speed will not cause a hazard, also that the fire won't travel too far.
Having said that, going to the falaisg is a very exciting occupation and the smell of burning heather is, to me, as good as any Chanel No 5.
This afternoon I was out with the matches and opened the season with a good blaze. The picture above shows the scene looking out across Loch na Craoibhe and with the Isle of Skye clearly visible on the horizon.
When we got home we saw a plume of smoke rising from nearby Harris, so we weren't the only ones keen to take advantage of the good dry conditions.
Sometimes, when the wind is in the right direction we can smell the smoke coming from the Isle of Skye.
Now for the health and safety bit...... muir-burning should only be undertaken by people who know what they are doing and are operating within a grazings committee envirnonment or similar. Unscheduled fires lit on the moors can be very dangerous to wildlife, stock and people.

6 comments:

JK said...

So that's what the lovely smell was yesterday Now I want to see more socks so get cranking...

donnie said...

cool - was on scalpay yesterday for a few mins and saw the flames flickering over kyles :))

Mamacita said...

Double cool - very interesting! I would like to experience the sight and smell of heather burning!
Ten years ago when I was in the Highlands for a visit I had the opportunity to experience the smell of a peat fire and it was y really special - I can remember it to this day!
We have 24 inches of snow on the ground and no where to shovel the next 2 - 4 inches due this week!

Patricia

Scalpay Linen said...

Keep warm Patricia and good luck with the impending snowfall!

Jenny Schouten Short said...

Hi, I found you through my friend, Riet, in Holland. I am a Texan married to a Dutchman. Your knitting is beautiful.

Scalpay Linen said...

Hi Jenny, Welcome aboard! Thanks you for your kind comment about my knitting... I'm still learning.