Rush job at the croft museum!

Edinburgh craftsman Peter Souness chats to Councillor Willie Mackay and Elizabeth Cameron, of Laidhay, about thatching.

The age-old skills of the thatcher were brought back to life when the Laidhay croft museum in Dunbeath engaged on a £10,000 three-week programme to make one of the county's top tourist attractions wind- and water-tight.

Skilled thatchers are in such short supply in the north that the work is being undertaken by Peter Souness, a chef by trade, from Loanhead, Edinburgh, who brought rushes with him from Howgate, Penicuik.

The rushes, four feet in length, are ideal for thatching as they are far longer than can be grown in Caithness. In a time-consuming process, the rushes are expertly tied together on top of the existing thatch and then held in place with wire netting weighed down by stones to make the roof secure.

Landward Caithness councillor Willie Mackay, who visited Laidhay to see the work being undertaken, said: "There is a lot of skill here, and Mr Souness gave a very informative demonstration on thatching methods used in generations gone by.

"I was very impressed and got a great insight into how difficult times were in the past for farmers and crofters in securing the roof on their dwelling.

"Laidhay is normally thatched every five years, and it is by no means easy to come by grant funding, let alone a professional to do the job.

"Laidhay also has a huge electricity bill annually to keep the inside of the museum dry. Its three-month heating bill for the summer period alone amounted to just over £700."

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