A day at the peats

The idea for this blog began almost ten years ago when I wanted to show case a dish called a day in the peats, where we took the memory of the ‘picnic’ and served it on a specially designed peat, if you’ve ever heard of such a thing, with some theatrics to go with it. I got the chance recently to show case this as part of a luncheon at the day club at CEN, which I was privileged to be a part of.

‘A day in the peats’ demo lunch can be watched here for those interested.

When taking Bailey out the moor for her walk, it matters not if its rain or shine as it is one of my favourite places to be. The open landscape, the fresh air and with the breeze it offers you the fragrance of the heather or if it’s a warm day and after heavy rain the breeze will offer you some of the damp peat aroma. In some areas of the moor it will offer you some of the wild flowers it has to offer. A calm summers day, the river will have the river babble away at you but after heavy rain it seems to sound more panicked. To drift away with your thoughts can be cut short in an instance by the wild fleeing wild life, a trait that the moor hen has got down to a T. Passing many abandoned peat banks saddens me but I still see some just turfed banks. The ceap that was once removed and laid down side by side the now barely visible ghostly remains of families, friends and neighbours, with the scars from the tairsgear still visible on the banks like some priceless forgotten art that is being lost with time.

The worked banks though few have peat laid on top of the banks with the iconic wall of peat and plenty more on the bottom of the bank. Some maybe further ahead with the peat being lifted into into small gatherings, waiting to finish the drying process in the sunshine and breeze if we are lucky until ready to be taken home.

When we were kids, around this time of year it was like going on an adventure, not to be confused with actually being involved with the peat operation at this moment in time. Our old Land Rover was brilliant. I can still recall the splutter of the old engine, but a healthy splutter and the smell of the diesel ready to take us as as far as the ‘far away’ peats with the essentials for the day in the peats. Essentials that included tye flasks, sandwiches, scones, aran corc, and duff, though there are vague memories of the times we had a fire burning with the kettle rarely off it, and kippers and potatoes what a thought, what a treat, eating in one of the best places in the world, alfresco at its best with the peat from previous memories, fuelling the fire to brew our tea. I think that only the people that have been involved in any part of the peats will understand this next part that I’m sure maybe documented or recorded somewhere and if I offend any one with this sentence is a bonus, I have had plenty of conversations with this with people and again, people who have been involved, that the best cup of tea they have ever had has been out in the peats. Is this factual and if so, what makes it the best? Does the theory come from a kettle that has been boiled on the open peat fire, perhaps the time the kettle has sat with the first cup not enough to quench, so a second attempt is had leading to a slightly stronger brew, did Búrn an Tuaran make it pure, perhaps the addition of a light dusting of smoor or heather buds to your cup, the view as you enjoy your strupack, is it the people that we shared this memory with that encapsulated us as we sat scattered in the Heather or is that high class standard achievable from a thermos?

When we were younger unless it was lifting or time to take the peats home, the time was really our own and this was spent fishing along the river. Now when I say fishing what I mean is we would take, I think the big old wooden wash pegs, fishing line and hooks that could be bought in Cross Post Office for two pence each, an array of pic n mix from all the jars on display and a host of other essentials that were stocked in that little magic post office. Go around lifting every stone in the vicinity foraging for worms and off we went planting the rods along the river and this was shear childhood at its best. Now any one lucky enough to escape the rain and found refuge in the tank as we were, when there were some heavy down pours were fortunate. What was not so fortunate was the day D.A’s father was shipping one of these tank shelters out to the peats in the back of the trailer and the usual, get along gang of Cross, who know who they are, those involved with playing rounders in the car park of the church or when it snowed shared the snow covered hills there with an empty sheep feed bag or at times the more rare coal bag, yes happy times they also were. We all had our little individual lunches, which we safely stowed in the tank as part of the transportation process from Cross and out the moor, but there must have been some form of breakdown in the toolbox talk that morning, as unaware we were that the easiest way to dispense said tank from the trailer was to tilt the trailer.

When we got to the scene of carnage I recall being over come with the dust that was still to settle, we managed to pass the remnant’s of what were our lunches with a chain formation but it was sad. My buttered banana sandwich was in a shambolic state of affairs. The little freezer bag almost unrecognisable, the buttered bread was, inside out and the sliced banana though still protected with a sheen of butter, peppered the inside of the bag. Our group met just north of the tank, and as we looked down at scene of devastation we took it in turns to go over the remains of each other’s lunches. The little that remained was a packet of chewits, though I can’t recall the quantity or size of such a treat then, what I do know was that the number in the packet devised by the get along gang did not eqate. Though I can’t remember who the chewits belonged to, this is was how it was divided evenly. I think I got one and others two, but the theory of that if I chewed it a lot slowly than everyone else it would last just as long as the two everyone else had………genius.

I think for every kid the best time at the peats was taking them home and getting the chance to sit on top of the load was amazing, why, I’m not sure? It looked cool, the higher the load the more danger perhaps, throwing caution to the wind, and just the over all buzz with each of us nestled into the peat which was far from comfy. But eventually the hard work would have to kick in. There is no denying the fact that it is back breaking work. The turfing could break the best of us, the cutting not so bad, throwing can test you, lifting will test your whole body, taking them home is a good feeling, the stack being built is the art that gives it that unique almost woven finish and closed as neat as possible to make it weather proof for the coming seasons. Those lucky enough to have an open fire, the peat warms our home or allows us to cook on the stove and if the wind is in the right direction it lends its aroma which I would class as one of the few unique finishing touches that bonds our families, friends and villages.

Gran, building the peat stack

I walk the heather, the wind whispering with memories of past, only rare caorans remain , Obh Obh!, bha latha aig féir nam móine.

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