Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scottish Crannog Centre

A crannog is a round-house on an artificial island constructed on wooden pilings or stone in a loch or lake. They are almost exclusive to Scotland and Ireland, where there are significant networks of interconnected waterways. There is only one known in England. European lake dwellings tend to be multiple buildings on square platforms.

Last week, I visited the Scottish Crannog Centre at Kenmore (Loch Tay), near Pitlochry, with my family (wife and two teenage daughters), and I would thoroughly recommend the place to anyone with an interest in pre-Roman civilisation in the Celtic parts of Europe. The reconstructed crannog at the Centre is based on the Oakbank Crannog which is just along the loch-side from the Centre. Oakbank was occupied for around 200 years around 2,500 years ago (over 500 years before the Romans darkened British doors). Crannogs were in use from around that time right up until the 16th or 17th Century A.D.!

There's a good exhibition of materials about the distribution of crannogs around Scotland, and about the relatively new field of underwater archaeology. This is followed by a guided visit to the reconstructed 10m diameter crannog on the lake (reached via a wooden walkway). I would have liked to have been able to spend more time on the crannog itself, but the next group of visitors was waiting with their guide. Once back on the lake-side, our guide gave us demonstrations of some of the technologies and crafts available to the crannog-dwellers. (Including hypothesized lathes, techniques for making holes in stones, drop-spinning, the use of a saddle quern for grinding wheat, and fire-starting) - we could have a go at all of these too.

Being as this is a tourist site, there is a shop - but it's a good one, with no kilt towels nor the excessive bagpipe music you usually find in Scottish tourist-trap shops.

The staff were excellent - knowledgeable, engaging, and genuinely interested in talking to the punters. Our excellent guide was Rachel, and we also chatted with Dirk for a while after our tour.

The roads around this part of Scotland are a bit narrow and twisty - even compared to home on the Isle of Man, so be aware it takes time to get places. However, it is well worth the effort of going to the Scottish Crannog Centre. It's open 10am - 5.30pm between April and October (off-season visits by appointment).

We intend to return in a couple of years to see what else they've discovered and developed on the site. Yes, even my teenage daughters agree.

Update: here are the photos.

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