I think on the mainland you call it a portfolio lifestyle but here in the Hebrides we call it crofting. An old fashioned way of saying you have more than one job and you make way with what you have to hand.
Producing Hebridean knitting yarn through the Birlinn Yarn Company is part of how we make way on our wee island but we have a few other means to make a living from the surrounding sea and land.
At this time of year, before we start lambing at the end of March, there are plenty of jobs to do. The days are getting longer and the weather a little better. One the biggies, that we have just finished, is to re-thatch Lamraig our self-catering cottage.
Lamraig cottage was originally built in the mid 1800’s and sits within a group of three cottages that are Grade A listed by Historic Scotland. It is amongst the few remaining traditional marram thatched cottages in the Uists and, therefore, is virtually unique in the world.
The cottage is situated only a stroll from a beautiful white sandy beach overlooking the Sound of Harris. Perfect for machair walks, otter and eagle spotting, relaxing and chilling.
We originally took on Lamraig cottage as a ruin back in 2001. At that stage it was just standing walls and a dirt floor. After 18 months of self-build, we finally moved in and spent the following 10 years bringing up our young family, working and growing up ourselves. It was small but cosy and in the storms we faired pretty well. The rafters creaked like a boat above a force 9 but other than that we would sleep through most howling gales. Those that had built it originally 200 hundred years ago had dug it well into the ground, ensured the walls were 4-5 feet thick and angled the gable wall into the prevailing wind. So we were really quite snug inside.
Every 3-4 years we need to add a fresh layer of thatch to the roof. The process starts with cutting marram grass from the sand dunes on the west side of the island. It is always important to carefully plan where to cut the marram as it plays such a vital part in stabilising the dunes. Like any harvest we must wait until the sap dries from the grass before cutting. Therefore, it is an autumn job and cutting does not start until at least September.
In days of old, the marram would have been cut by scythe but today it is cut by strimmer, then hand gathered and bundled. When the weather is good it is not so bad to spend your day peacefully gathering grass by the ocean, left to your own thoughts, tea breaks in the sand dunes lying back watching soring golden eagles over-head. It is, however, still satisfying when the bundles are loaded into the landrover, job done and back to the croft.
The thatching is best done in dry weather with wind of under Force 5 so finding such weather from October onwards is not easy. When the weather is good it means long, tough days working until darkness to get the job done.
But the result is always satisfying. A ‘plump’ wee cottage all cosy inside and set for a new visitor season … lets hope there are not too many winter gales and we don’t have to re-thatch for another four years!!
If you are interested in a peaceful and relaxing holiday in Lamraig Cottage can enquire via our site.