Crofting

Crofting was the mainstay of life in Unst for many centuries, giving families a base.  Croft houses were stone built, with barn and byre attached.  The crofts themselves were small but the hills, (scattald) beyond the township boundary provided extra grazing, especially in summer when the growing crops of oats, potatoes, vegetables and hay had to be protected from hungry mouths.

Croft House

Croft House

For a household a cow was of utmost importance to provide milk and butter for the family.  Where possible two milk cows were kept so that they could produce a calf alternately.   For handiness sake the milking cow was often tethered near the house.  If possible a pig was kept to be slaughtered before Christmas, and the hams were salted and hung up in the peat smoke to ‘reist’.  A few Shetland sheep were also kept.  These hardy animals survived well on the hills, being adept at finding both food and shelter.

Shetland ponies too were well equipped to withstand the vagaries of our climate.  They became very important to Unst, for much of the moor for cutting peat was often a considerable distance away and although the ponies were small they were strong and tractable.  All the equipment for carrying the peat was made by hand.   Peat curing was just one of the many croft chores.