The smoky scent of the fire permeates the air all around me as I lean in to enjoy its warmth. I carefully reposition myself on my wooden bench (lined with a comfortable animal skin) to get a better look at my unique surroundings. If you listen carefully, you can hear the water gently lapping against the wooden beams that lie below the straw and wooden beamed floor. Above me is a cone-shaped roof framed by wood and lined with thatch. The space is circular with rounded walls formed from sturdy hazel trees that have been woven together. What is particularly amazing about this home is that it is a reconstruction of an Iron Age dwelling from 2500 years ago!
Life on the Water
Situated over the water of Loch Tay in the very heart (or centre) of Scotland is a recreation of a prehistoric crannog that is part of The Scottish Crannog Centre. At this point, many of you are probably wondering- what exactly are crannogs? Well, the Centre points out that they were islands built at the edges of lochs in Scotland and Ireland. There were different ways to construct a crannog. With an abundance of forests and woods in Perthshire, prehistoric people in the area built crannogs on wooden timbers over the water. However, in areas that lacked enough trees, people would build a crannog of stone or even make use of a small island already on the water.
Not all people in Iron Age Scotland lived in homes like this, but some did. In fact, according to the Centre, it is believed that there are more than 400 crannogs to be found in the over 30,000 lochs in Scotland. And the archaeological evidence for crannogs is quite fascinating but we’ll return to that a bit later.
Crannogs, like the one at the Centre, could be inhabited by an extended family of around 20 people. While the living space was open and communal, it is also thought that people had separate areas off to the side where they could have a bit of privacy, perhaps sleeping on raised platforms (pictured on the right below).
In the evenings as well as colder and unfavourable weather conditions, the family would spend most of their time inside the crannog- even their domesticated animals would be inside with them. The crannog would have been quite dark as there were no windows and they used only the light from the hearth and slivers of pine wood and its resin as candles. Nevertheless, they would make clothes, repair tools, and have their meals. However, the remaining time of the crannog dwellers would have been spent outside.
Work on Shore
The Scottish Crannog Centre staff discuss how it is believed that much of the work the crannog dwellers did would have been done on shore. What is fantastic about the Centre is that they’ve recreated these areas with staff on hand to demonstrate to visitors how the work was done. They have set up a few different areas based on metal/wood/pottery making, textiles, the ‘kitchen’, and trade. I don’t want to spoil the experience- so I’ll just focus on a few highlights.
One area focused on how the crannog dwellers would have worked with metal, wood, and pottery with the staff person demonstrating how it was done. For example, they have a prehistoric drill as well as a pole lathe for wood.
There is also a ‘kitchen’ area with a reconstructed clay oven and a smoker oven. You might even luck out and get to taste some bread made from an Iron Age recipe.
The textiles area was quite informative, and you can see demonstrations of how the wool fabrics were produced and dyed during the Iron Age. There are examples of reconstructed prehistoric shoes and clothing worn by the staff.
One of my favourite spots was directly on the shoreline where they have reconstructed log boats and beautiful views of the crannog.
After touring the crannog and shoreline area, learning about the crannog dwellers’ work life, and seeing how it was done- it is quite clear that their daily lives involved long, hard labour. It really is amazing how the Iron Age people were able to create such unique structures on the lochs of Scotland. What is even more amazing are the artefacts that have survived the centuries.
While it is lovely to see recreations of the crannog and the daily life of its inhabitants, the archaeological ‘geek’ in me was especially fascinated to see actual artefacts from the prehistoric period. Situated inside the reception/gift shop building is a wee museum that should not be overlooked. For me, some of the highlights include actual foundation timbers from a crannog that was once on Loch Tay as well as artefacts from the peoples’ daily lives.
What is so remarkable about the underwater environment of the loch bed is that it is quite devoid of oxygen and sunlight. Therefore, it provides the perfect conditions to preserve items for thousands of years and that is why underwater archaeologists were able to find many of the pieces on exhibit. In one display case, you can see artefacts such as a mortar (for grinding food), a plate made of alder wood, and even a butter dish with residue of butter from thousands of years ago- how amazing is that?!
Visiting the Scottish Crannog Centre
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at The Scottish Crannog Centre and highly recommend you take the time to visit as there is much more to see and learn. The staff are incredibly friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Please head to their website for the most up-to-date information.
We are also thrilled to share that they have plans to eventually move across the loch to a new site. Our guides discussed how there are plans to build three crannogs! What’s even more impressive is that they are going to build social housing so that volunteers and staff will have an affordable place to live close to the Centre. This new site is still in development with quite some time before it becomes a reality. However, we will certainly visit again once it is built and do a corresponding blog post.
In the meantime, please put The Scottish Crannog Centre on your agenda for when you visit Highland Perthshire, Scotland- you won’t be disappointed!
Until next time- Explore and Discover!