Read A Croft in the Hills Online

Authors: Katharine Stewart

A Croft in the Hills


Other books by Katharine Stewart include:

Crofts and Crofting

A Garden in the Hills

A School in the Hills

The Post in the Hills

The Crofting Way

This eBook edition published in 2013 by
Birlinn Limited
West Newington House
Newington Road

First published in 1960 by Oliver and Boyd
A new edition published by Melven Press in 1979
Reset edition published in 2005 by Mercat Press
This edition published by Birlinn Ltd in 2009

© Katharine Stewart 1960, 1979 and 2005

The moral right of Katharine Stewart to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-84158-791-2
eBook ISBN: 978-0-85790-751-6

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library


INTRODUCTION to the First Edition

FOREWORD to the First Edition by

FOREWORD to the Second Edition by



All of you with little children . . . take them somehow into the country among green grass and yellow wheat—among trees—by hills and streams, if you wish their
highest education, that of the heart and the soul, to be completed.’

Richard Jefferies


to the First Edition


, you may ask, record the simple fact that three people took to the hills and lived quiet lives under a wide sky, among the rock and heather, working
with the crops and beasts they could manage to raise there, in order to feed and clothe themselves. There is certainly little room for dramatic highlights in this story of ours. But we heard the
singing and we found the gold. And I believe that each small stand taken against the shrill wind of disenchantment which is blowing across the world has more positive human value than many of the
assertions being made by science today.

Science says: ‘Here is a stone. It weighs so much. It measures so much. It is so-and-so many years old.’ But a man needs to discover that the stone is strong, so that he can stand on
it, and cool, so that he can lay his head against it: that it is beautiful and can be fashioned as an ornament, or hard and can be built into his home.

How does he make these discoveries? With his own eyes, his own wits, his own imagination. His assessment of the stone includes a measuring of his own stature. And as his hand passes over the
firm surface his brain is alert, his imagination lit. He is alive.

If the human being is to hold to his identity, he must, somehow or other, keep on making his own discoveries. The tragedy of today is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to do so.
He is even in danger of becoming a back number, for the powers that would govern his life have found that the machine is, for competitive purposes, so much more efficient and reliable than he

When you have lived for a few years in the bare uplands, where life has been precarious from the start, you learn, first, not to panic. Then you are ready to love wholeheartedly what need no
longer be feared. You become so deeply involved in the true drama of cherishing life itself that mere attitudes and the pursuit of possessions are discarded as absurd. You discover that under snow
there is bread, the secret bread, that sustains.

Panic gone, you can plot a course with steady hand and eye. And, after all, human steadfastness is the only ultimate weapon fit to guarantee survival in a real sense.

That is why I thought it worthwhile to record the process by which three small human beings, completely re-enchanted with their world, found the strength to walk without fear among the
astonishing beauty of its wilderness.

I should like to thank Mrs. Anne Shortreed for capturing so delightfully, in line, the spirit of life in the uplands. And my special thanks go to Mr. Neil Gunn, who gave the book his




to the First Edition




The typescript of this adventure story reached me out of the blue— or very nearly, for the croft is about a thousand feet above Loch Ness: marginal land, hill-top
farming, where on a February morning the blue may be vibrant with lark song or obscured by a snow blizzard. This is the oldest of all Highland adventures and will be the last. It is heartening and
heart-breaking. Why do people go on thinking they can make a living out of a hill croft? In particular, what drives strangers, not bred in crofting traditions, to make the attempt? This is the
story of such an attempt, with all the questions answered, and it is told so well that I find it absorbing.

For the author and her husband see everything with new eyes. They meet their problems as they arise, and they arise daily. Their capacity for work is all but inexhaustible. If I hesitate to use
the word heroic it is because there are no heroics in this human record; only day-to-day doings, the facts of life, but, again, facts that spread over into many dimensions, the extra dimensions
that give the book its unusual quality, its brightness and its wisdom. For the attitude to life is positive; it somehow contrives to survive the frustrations; and that today is rare. Often, too,
this is seen in coloured threads running through the main texture, as in the growing up of their child to school age and her responses to the myriad influences of the natural scene; or in the
spontaneous help given by, and to, neighbours at difficult or critical times—the old communal warmth that survives the hazards, or is there because of them.

I commend this book to all those who are interested in such things and may have sometimes wondered if there is any meaning in the ancient notion of ‘a way of life’.


to the Second Edition




It is a great honour for me to be asked to introduce this reprint of
A Croft in the Hills
. The book gave me great delight when first it appeared, I treasure my copy;
and I am happy that now many more readers may enjoy it too.

I am myself of the old stock of Abriachan, the place which the author chose for her brave venture into crofting life, I have therefore the keener interest in it. But I know that through this
book, and through the Folk Museum with which she has more recently been associated, Katharine Stewart has illuminated the crofting life not only of Abriachan but of the Highlands of Scotland.



had both, since our earliest days, found it difficult to live in a city. Every free half-day or week-end, every summer holiday, had found us making
for the nearest patch of country, anywhere where we could breathe and smell the earth and see the sky in great stretches, instead of in tiny squares between the huddled roof-tops.

I shall always remember walking down Oxford Street, during a war-time rush-hour, and finding myself nearly losing my footing among the crowd, because my mind’s eye was fixed on the rim of
a steel-blue Highland loch, and I was smelling the scent of the bog-myrtle and hearing the weird, lonely cry of a drifting curlew. Jim, at that time, used to stand, during the brief spells of
leisure his exacting job afforded, gazing through the huge, plate-glass windows of his place of work and seeing, beyond the racketing crowd, an oasis very like the one I had wandered into.

Later, we managed to make some sort of a compromise. We lived on the edge of the country and he went off to work at an unearthly hour of the morning, clad in the respectable black coat and hat
of the city worker and shod with large, hobnailed boots (which he changed on arrival), for the two-mile walk to the bus. In the evenings I would go to meet him and in still weather I would hear the
ring of the hobnails on the road long before he came in sight.

We had a garden; we had trees and the sky in stretches; we grew vegetables; we kept bees and hens and ducks. But the journeys to and from work were exhausting, though Jim would never admit it,
and compromises are never really satisfactory. We were chafing against the tether.

Then Jim’s work took him to a small town in the north of Scotland. That was the end; city life is bad enough but small-town life is far worse.

In a city one has, at least, the feeling that there are thousands of kindred spirits about, if one only knew them, folk just as dissatisfied as oneself with the mechanics of living, who know
that it is not enough to have acquired some little skill or other, which will enable one to make enough money to buy shelter and clothing and food, so that one may continue to employ one’s
skill so as to be able to go on buying shelter and clothing and food, and so on...
ad infinitum.
In a city there is at least a spark of the divine discontent, an only half-submerged longing
to catch a glimpse of the larger design, but in a small town everyone seems so glad of the boundary wall.

Other books

Unleashed by Katie MacAlister
Virgin River by Richard S. Wheeler
Twelve Days of Christmas by Trisha Ashley
Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk
The Lion Who Stole My Arm by Nicola Davies
Limerence by Claire C Riley
Legs by William Kennedy
Pulling the Moves by Margaret Clark Copyright 2016 - 2024