The Croft

Stonehead Croft

Stonehead Croft lies almost at the end of a ridge a little over two miles out of Insch, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

The croft house dates back to at least the 1740s, while the neighbouring Stonehead Circle dates to the late Neolithic period and lends the agricultural surroundings an air of continuity that reflects the fact this area has been occupied for thousands of years.

The main part of the croft house and the entire steading are built from local stone, mainly round granite boulders although much of the original and local slate roofing has been replaced in recent times by Welsh slate.

Several of the boundaries take the form of drystane dykes, again built from stone taken from the fields, while the whole ridge is a huge mass of stone, split by a fault running roughly east-west.

We have a six-acre field that extends to the west and north (out of sight in the photo), which is largely used for grazing sheep, for making hay or for sileage.

Our pigs, a herd of pedigree Berkshires, are on several smaller fields and pens created out of the larger one, but these post-date the aerial photo.

Tucked in between the L-shaped windbreak and the backwall of the steading is the Chicken Fort, the small brown shed just in front of the trees.

Dwelling within their stout, electrified perimeter fence are most of our flock of chickens, a mixture of Scots Greys and ISA Browns.

Within the other L-shaped windbreak is our vegetable patch of 14 beds. We also grow other vegetables in the fields in rotation with the pigs.

The steading itself, the L-shaped stone building, consists of (starting from the road to the south) a generator room, workshop, byre, hayshed and an old cottage. The cottage is currently used as a lumber store and to house the broody coop.

The house runs east-west across the front of the steading and is a mish-mash of old stone walls, various extensions, a converted garage and a roof extension. Visitors are always surprised by its Tardis-like nature as they wend their way through the various room.

The workload is relentless, particularly after one of our regular gales, but the rewards are fantastic as we slowly see a self-sufficient croft re-emerging from its slumber.

We are not trying to create a profitable smallholding or farm in any of the modern economic, social or cultural senses, but nor are we trying to lead an alternative lifestyle.

We’re trying to lead a more traditional lifestyle while also minimising our impact on the environment around us. Our life is hard, but it’s ours and it’s a lot more fun than being a wage slave tied to the consumerist treadmill.

So while the croft once supported four families and their livestock and is not likely to do that again, it’s a real pleasure to have one foot in the past and another in the future.

38 Responses to “The Croft”

  1. Very nice place. Six acres. Very jealous. I looked at Scotland, and Cornwall but plumped for my parents home of Ireland. Not only that but the expensive part.

    As soon as I can flog my acre then it’s off to a cheaper area with a dream four acres and a stream.

  2. You’re right about the expense. It took us five years to find a place we could just afford, gradually working our way every northwards.

    And I also know what you mean about having a stream. My ideal place would have the outbuildings and hill we have now, but it would also have a permanent stream or burn and several acres of deciduous woodland.

    But that would have meant spending tens of thousands more and waiting even longer. Besides, Stonehead Croft has a great location, a great name and great potential (for the latter, read lots of work to do!).

    Good luck in your search.

  3. Hi Stonehead

    I envy you, the satisfaction I got from shooting and eating pidgeon breast and sitting down to a meal of our own pork and veggies is amazing. We have 3 acres, and keep pigs (Gloucester old spot,) chickens and a mare with foal. I also work nights so I’m cheating, but what the hell

    Good luck

    Colin

  4. Ah yes, the envious glances that were cast my way this morning as I got up at 4.30am to load a couple of pigs for their trip to the abattoir, as well as getting the breakfast things laid out and the clothes ready for kids. Then timing the trip to the abattoir just right to get the boys back home in time for breakfast with their Mum (they always come with me). Then doing all the normal chores in a quarter of the time so we can see the OH out the door on time, the oldest on his school bus 10 minutes and the youngest on his way to playgroup 20 minutes later.
    Then stagger home for a quick break and a coffee before getting back to work. Not bad to get four-and-a-half hours work done by 9am! :)

  5. It might be hard work, but it looks like it’s worth it.What a lovely place you have

  6. Hi Big Bro,
    We’re looking at land with a home at the moment, I would guess your no. 1 advice would be to go for water supply first. we’re looking at a couple now, one with a river and dams and 52 acres, unfortunately it costs a bit more than the smaller one with spring,dams and 5 acres. It always comes back to money doesn’t it? Any other advice, we’re considering raising goats and chooks( then I can work for us,rather than anyone else) we also want to grow our own veg and fruit. Ohhh……. and can’t forget the horse I’ve wanted since I was 5.

  7. Yes, water is the top priority – it must be from a reliable source and must be high quality.
    After that, good quality soil, some tree cover, good outbuildings and at least one paddock with good fencing already.
    The house is much less important – provided it’s habitable and large enough for your needs. Both of those are down to personal comfort as much as anything.
    With good water and soil, plus useable outbuildings and at least one secure paddock you can get started straight away.
    Tree cover is vital, whether for shade, timber, habitat, wind breaks, etc. I’d strongly suggest planting more trees as you’re able (not all at once – you want a good spread of ages so you’re looking at a 10-year plus programme).
    And 52 acres with river and dams? Fancy going halves? :D

  8. I’ll email you the property details,you’ll be amazed at the price, we’d buy it today but I think the bank will want a bigger deposit than we’ve got! Still a miracle might happen!??!!

  9. Hi just visited your website anfter reading your news on Scottish power generation.

    I live with my wife and 4 young kids on an old croft in Glenbervie south of Stonehaven. Unfortunately I’ve only got about 1.5 acres or so. All the surrounding land is part of an estate and is not for sale at the moment.

    I am trying to make myself self-sufficient. I grow vegetables, keep chickens and a pair of donkeys. I hope to put up a polytunnel this year. I would like to also keep pigs, bees and perhaps a cow or goats later. I have bought a wind turbine and solar panels which in a good year should see us energy independent. 2 open fires provide the back-up.

    I have a burn running through our land. I have dug a shallow well, rather a spring too. I am planning a rain water collection system that will provide our main water supply, with the well as backup.

    As the house was and still is a “conventional” house we still have mains water and electricity and oil central heating as back-up.

    I would really like to come and vist your croft sometime and see how its really done!

  10. Hi Stonehead- idylic!!! my wife and I are about to embark on pigs(saddlebacks) and curently do chickens veg etc!! As is always the way we too are land poor every time you try to buy some a landowner snaps it up for way over the odds to go with their other 1000+ acres-v.frustrating!!!!!!! as the kids are older and looking to move on we to are now considering the move northwards from east Devon-beautiful though it is land is more important to us.

    Looking forward to trying your nettle beer recipe

  11. maggie mcgowan Reply 3 June, 2007 at 12:50

    Hello!

    My name is Maggie and I lived at Stonehead between April 1988 and November 1993, when Stonehead burnt down. My husband and I spent 7 years renovating Stonehead and two months after we finished the house burnt down due to an electrical fault. It’s nice to see that someone has moved in there and is living in the smallholding as it should be. Do you get Americans and Canadians looking over the wall and telling you that their grandparents lived there?

    Are Eleanor and George Duthie still your neighbours? The Hendersons? Grace your nearest neighbour? I sat in Grace’s house and watched Stonehead burn down. A very sad moment inmy life. I wish you all the best in the house. I loved my time there.

    maggie

  12. G’day Maggie.

    We haven’t had the Americans and Canadians – yet – but we did have a Scottish couple shoot some video to send to their aunt in Canada. she was born on the croft. We’ve also had a elderly chap from the village drop in for a look around as he was born in what is now our hayshed.

    Eleanor and George are still there – George grazes sheep on part of our field and pays us in lambs. The Hendersons are still there, as are Norman and Grace.

    It was great to hear from you. If you’re ever up this way, drop in and say hello and have a nosey around yourself.

  13. Hello folks…found your site while looking for info on storing potatoes.
    What caught my eye right off was your line in “About….” of not being a wage slave on the consumerist treadmill. Excellent.
    My wife, two boys and I bought an old farm three years back and are now just beginging to growing animals and food. Its an old place (1790) on 13 acres with a post and beam barn. Unfortunatly (or fortunatly depending on how you look at it) the place was not used as it should have been so there was much to do prior to getting on with any growing of animals or crops.
    Planted potatoes this year and forked a few from the ground last night.
    Two barefoot boys scrambling to grab spuds is a fine sight. Rambling aside I look forward to reading more of your site and gleaning as much information as possible. Keep up the work.

    Bill

  14. Funny you should mention storing potatoes as we’ve just removed the last of 2006′s crop from the last storage bin.

    There was about 25kg of potatoes left, with about a dozen potatoes starting to show rot on the outside. When I started to prepare the remaining ones for pig feed and potato wine, about 10% showed signs of rot internally.

    I think that’s an excellent result. We put more than 20 hundredweight (just over a metric tonne) of potatoes into store last September and October. Ten-and-half months later, we still had a good store of useable potatoes that overlapped nicely with our early main croppers this year.

    Anyway, nice to hear from someone else doing something similar and I hope it all works out for you.

  15. Hi Stonehead, being new to wordpress, I only discovered your blog because you left a comment on mine! lol

    Your croft looks lovely, would love a place with a bit more land. We’ve only got half an acre here in Lincolnshire at the moment. So we could grow our own meat if we had more land. Something other than chicken would be nice!

    Have often thought about Scotland or Wales or Ireland, but I only see my daughters twice a year now, and I really would miss them, especially the youngest if I moved even further away. Also, I’ll be a Great Grannieannie soon too!

    Still, we try to do our best. I try to re-cycle as much as I can rather than go to landfill, but a lot goes on the compost heap. Our relatives think I’m made when I collect their newspapers up for the woodburner. I shred paper for the compost heap and cardboard sometimes. I’ve now got a polytunnel, three greenhouses, 3 compost bins 3 chicken sheds and 2 brooder sheds, plus the wardrobe!! and all of them were either free or cheap off Ebay. The polytunnel I got from a little nursery that was closing down.

    I realise there is still so much I can do, but now I have discovered blogs as well as the internet, I’m beginning to learn a whole lot more!

    I haven’t read it all yet, but I love your blog, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to put it on my favourite sites on my blog. Also seen a few on your favourites I want to look at too! Good reading, thanks!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Stonehead Croft—a potted history « Musings from a Stonehead - 15 October, 2008

    [...] of it to Peter Reece and his spouse Margaret Johnstone Brown Reece in 1986. (I think this is the Maggie who left a comment on the blog in June [...]

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