A croft is a small holding or strip of land, between 1 and 50 acres. The crofting lifestyle is common in the Highlands of Scotland, particularly on the Isle of Skye. It is a type of land tenure and method of generating small-scale food production. Only a few crofts are large enough for the crofter (tenant/owner) to earn their income solely from their land. Many of the modern-day crofters have to supplement their income with other methods of employment, as only a small percentage of crofts are large enough to support a self-sustaining lifestyle. The croft house and outbuildings are the property of the tenant and since 1976 the crofter is legally entitled to purchase their croft land. The purchase of croft land is actively encouraged and tenants have access to special grants and loans to enable them to do so.
Historically, the life of a crofter was a tough existence and consequently many were forced to seek a new life overseas. In September 1771, 370 crofters sailed to North Carolina and by the end of the 1700s more than 2,000 men had emigrated to the New World. Those who stayed behind became increasingly angry at their treatment and continual persecution. Restrictions were commonplace, eviction was brutal, owning dogs and collecting seaweed from the shoreline (a staple of crofting life) was soon banned. Crofter rebellions took place right across the Isle of Skye and military intervention was not uncommon to restore law and order.
In 1885, the Government introduced a Crofters Bill and this was shortly after abandoned following a change of government. It wasn’t until June 1886, under Gladstone’s government, that the Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act was passed. This enabled the survival of future generations of crofters by allowing the croft to be handed down to his family and also giving the tenant more rights.
At the Colbost Folk Museum (Tel: 01470 521 296, small admission charge applies), near Dunvegan on the northern part of the Duirinish Peninsula, there is an example of a 19th century croft house. The type of house on display is known as a Western Isle blackhouse. The blackhouse consisted of 2 rooms, a kitchen and a living-room as well as 1 bedroom. The peat fire was kept burning continuously in a croft house creating a dense, smokey atmosphere. The blackhouses were warm and cosy in the harsh Highland winters.
The Museum also has on display two thatched outhouses, one of which contains a replica of an illicit Whisky still. The Museum was founded in 1969 by local man Peter MacAskill (the same gentleman who founded the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum).