Throughout my blogs, I have recorded my life with crofting from a very early age on the family croft at Roadside, Hamnavoe and throughout my employment, over 50 years working with crofters. In recent years I have witnessed a steep decline in crofting in our islands for a mixture of reasons. The island of Yell in the north of Shetland when I started work consisted almost totally of crofting. In our wool store archives, per head of population Yell had the largest number of crofters on our books and was primarily a crofting community. Nowadays people have been leaving crofting and especially in Yell, leaving to seek out employment on the mainland. It came as a great shock and surprise to me when our daughter announced that her and her partner, who was brought up in the island had purchased a croft and croft- house in Yell.
I have been asked many questions over the years and recently in my blog series about crofting in our islands. I would like to portray modern day crofting life featuring their croft Lower Guddon croft throughout the seasons. Starting in the first of the year with the feeding of the animals and ensuring they survive the winter months which can be quite severe in such an exposed place.
Lower Guddon is an owner occupied croft situated in Gossabrough a small hamlet of around nine households, a typical crofting community to be found throughout Shetland. The croft includes a croft house and adjoining outbuildings, and comprises in by arable land and a hill apportionment; that is an area of land fenced in from the hill. Which means they can put twenty sheep on the common grazing. It is set in an idyllic situation overlooking the Wick of Gossabrough with the island of Fetlar in the background. The land slopes down to a beautiful sandy beach called Swarister which is home to a resident common seal colony as well as many otters which inhabit the sea shore and Green burn which flows into the sea. There is an abundance of seabirds including Gannets which seem to stay around the shoreline even in the winter months, I was told these are older birds which are not able to venture far out to sea.
There are approximately forty ewes on the croft a mixture of Shetland Katmoget, Texel, Cheviot, Shetland Cross Cheviot and a Cheviot ram. The Katmogit sheep I bought last year from a local crofter. There are also hens and ducks which supply fresh eggs.
The croft has excellent arable ground and has been well tended to over the years. The land would be divided into what is commonly known as a rig, an area usually a strip of land where different crops would be grown, corn, potatoes, turnips, and of course hay. The close proximity to the peat hill and beach meant there was a never ending supply of organic fertiliser. The peat would be spread on the soil and then the seaweed would be gathered from the beach and it too would provide excellent natural nutrients.
This method of land husbandry is summed up in an excellent Shetland dialect poetic description of gathering seaweed at the Guddon by a relative of one of the resident crofters of that time.
The poem is titled Tarry Krook at Swarister Beach.
Tammie took & guid inta da warri bruk, Da sea cam in & nearly took Tammie wi his Tarry krook.
(Tarry Krook) – A fork with the prongs set at right angles to the shaft, used in gathering seaweed for fertiliser. (Warri) – Dialect name for seaweed. Bruck – a mixture of bits of seaweed.
Lambing time has arrived and life on the croft is very busy, due to these uncertain times our grandson is currently off school so is able to help out with all the required tasks. It is very satisfying for me to see such a young person happy and keen to be working on the croft.