“ A crannog is a type of ancient loch-dwelling found throughout Scotland and Ireland dating from 5,000 years ago. Many crannogs were built out in the water as defensive homesteads and represented symbols of power and wealth. The Scottish Crannog Centre features a unique reconstruction of an early Iron Age loch-dwelling, built by the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology (STUA). This authentic recreation is based on the excavation evidence from the 2,600 year old site of 'Oakbank Crannog', one of the 18 crannogs preserved in Loch Tay, Scotland. The STUA continues to explore other underwater sites in Loch Tay and further afield, regularly adding new discoveries to its multi-award-winning flagship centre at Kenmore, Perthshire. „
The Scottish Crannog Centre
Kenmore, Loch Tay
Prior to staying in Kenmore I had never come across the term Crannog and certainly would have had absolutely no idea what one was. Before we go anywhere on holiday we do quite a lot of research and we discovered that the centre for Scottish Crannogs was on Loch Tay just near where we were staying and so that went down on the list of things to do once we arrived.
A Crannog is an Iron Age settlement or house on a very small island close to the shores of a Loch. Today they look like tiny islands with a clump of trees growing on them. In Loch Tay they have found eighteen of these Crannogs and one particular one they have studied and investigated thoroughly in order to learn about Crannogs and recreate the Crannog which is a major part of the Crannog Centre.
There are two very obvious remains of Crannogs within sight of the centre and one very close which was visited by Queen Victoria on her Honey moon when she came to visit Taymouth Castle. She apparently was 'very amused' by her Crannog picnic which made me smile, I could picture the scene and fuss getting her over onto the tiny island and really there is nothing there except trees but I bet tables and all sorts were set up for her.
The price was £6 per adult, £5.50 for concessions and there was a family price of £ 23 so it would have to be a big family to make it worthwhile. It is open from 10am till 5.30 daily but the last tour is an hour before closing time. The centre closes during winter as it is too cold and unsafe for visitors so if visiting after October 31st and before April 1st I think you will be unlucky although it does sometimes open for special events. On the brochure it says opening times and prices vary which saves money re printing brochures should they need to change anything!
It is not a huge museum with many multi sensory activities but they have made very good use of what they have. The small shop is where you buy your ticket and then every half hour or so you are allowed into the self guided exhibition.
SELF GUIDED EXHIBITION
In here they have exhibited some of the items found at the Crannog on the Loch. The first exhibit shows a small aquarium and tells you there are nine things to find in there. We found only two things that looked of any interest and the rest looked just like the bottom of any pond might look! There are original Crannog supporting timbers in wet tanks but again had I seen these I would have thought that they were just logs in water. There was also a recreated cut out log boat and finally dressing up clothes for children and adults with a painting of the Loch and Crannog to pose in front of. The exhibit ended finally with a loom showing how the fabric was made. It was small and you had fifteen minutes in there which was plenty of time really.
We were then met by our guide in costume who took us onto the Crannog. You walk across a bridge of logs laid horizontally but not fixed. The guide warned us to ensure all small items like mobile phones were safely away as if they fell through that was them gone into the loch.
Inside the Crannog the floor was the same only they have covered the logs with bracken and wool and straw so it was insulated and easier to walk on. The guide aid it was unlikely that the Iron Age residents would have used wool as it was too precious but the bracken and straw was pretty authentic. The Crannog was round and thatched probably with bracken and straw again as bracken is plentiful in the region. On this replica they had used reeds as they were given them as a donation and didn't want to waste the donation as they are run on donations only.
It reminded me a bit of being inside a Basuto hut the Rwandan village hut or an Indian tipi as it was round and had a conical roof. This had no smoke hole unlike a tipi. The reason being partly the wet weather and partly because they kept the fire going all the time and if there was a smoke hole there was more chance of the roof catching fire from glowing sparks flying around. The atmosphere inside must have been a bit like inside a smokehouse and indeed they did hang fish and meat high in the roof to be smoked. I bet they all had an air of kipper about them!
They built these houses just off the shore yet they farmed on the land. They have found evidence of wheat and other crops. They have also found evidence of them owning sheep, goats and cows but he didn't mention chickens and I didn't think to ask about them. The animals they believe came onto the Crannog at night and certainly in the winter and were kept on the outer platform just near the front entrance and possible just inside when the weather was really bad. The Crannog had a platform around the outside and the wooden pillars holding it up formed three circles, one large one around the outer edge, an inner circle holding the 'walls' and roof and then a third supporting the inner part of the house. The walls were a double layer of woven willow and they believe that between the two woven panels the owners were fill with straw and grass and whatever else to form insulation and also store fodder for winter for the animals.
Inside the Crannog in the centre was the fore platform which held various cooking pots. The fire was kept going at all times so presumably there must have been a layer of stones under the fire to keep it from burning through the logs. Around the outer area but inside the 'walls were divided areas with wooden raised platforms. They believe underneath was used as storage while the people slept on the platforms. They think that around twenty people lived in each Crannog and it would be an extended family.
Why did they build their houses on the water? The guide suggested it could be for security as the bridge could have the logs removed and a gap left so that invaders or wild animals couldn't get to them of their animal. He also suggested that it could be a status thing and that these homes could be clearly seen from around the loch and it was saying I am wealthy as I have this big house.
EXPERIENCING IRON AGE CRAFTS
Once you have had the Crannog explained inside the Crannog you then come back to the mainland and the guide demonstrated the various tools. First he showed us three different lathes and how they used them to turn wood and make bowl and cups etc. You could try all these yourself afterward too. The next craft was how to make holes in stones, they found a lot of these stones with holes in them which they think were used to weigh down fishing nets, weigh down wooden drill, looms and even anchor the boat. There were two methods, one using a wooden stick and a drill and the other using a hard stone and 'pecking' at a softer large stone. The great thing about showing visitors and the telling them they could have a try is that they got more stones with holes for their displays and demonstrations too.
After demonstration a drop loom the guide then made fire from two sticks. This was very clever in that he had a soft piece of wood placed on top of a piece of leather. The second piece of wood was in a spindle with he turned using a bow. After some time smoke began to appear and the soft base wood had a hole with smoking embers fallen through onto the leather. These embers he then placed in a small trough full of wood shavings of three kinds. He then blew gently on the embers until the shavings caught fire. It was pretty impressive but I think a match is a great and simple invention.
In this area were several displays of crops grown and local plants used for food and medicine which I found fascinating and made me wonder why we don't forage more these days.
There is a small café with log seats and tables, the shop and toilet and parking is free opposite the centre. There assisted disabled access and a bus stop nearby.
It doesn't look much from outside but I found it fascinating and extremely well done, very much worth a visit and worth the money for the entrance.
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Crannogs are artificial man made islands which were used as dwelling houses and were common in Scotland and Ireland between the Neolithic ages 5000 years ago and the seventeenth century. The crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre on the beautiful Loch Tay is a raised structure on stilts set into the beds of the loch with a circular wooden platform with a thatched roof set above the water. Crannogs were a common sight along the shores of Loch Tay with many sites identified and the crannog at the centre has been built based on archaeological finds at the Oakbank crannog which stood near to Fearnan village over 2500 years ago. The centre has been built as far as possible using ancient tools and techniques which both furthers historical knowledge and is fascinating for the visitor.
There are no real answers as to why the Iron age people decided to build a crannog on Loch Tay instead of living on the land. The crannog can be used as a defensive structure as living on the water with a concealed entrance provides protection. Living on the water may also have been a status symbol for the wealthy, they may have lived on the water to escape vermin and the dreaded midge or they may have simply enjoyed the views and fishing! While nobody can be entirely sure why people lived in a crannog they are all agreed that these are remarkable structures build by a fascinating and industrious group of people.
The first part of the tour is a self guided walk through a small exhibition centre which has photos and displays which tell the visitor all about the underwater archaeology and the finds which underpin the historical basis of the centre as well as having artefacts on display. This part of the visit was interesting for the adults but the little ones soon became bored and restless here.
The next part of the tour is the guided visit onto the crannog itself. We were given woollen blankets to wrap around our shoulders to keep us warm and then guided along the wooden walkway into the crannog. The first thing that hit us when we walked inside was the smell, an extremely earthy odour which was a mixture of the animal hides and bracken floors. Our noses soon acclimatised and we sat down on wooden benches covered in animal hides so that our guide could tell us all about the crannog.
The crannog is surprisingly roomy and comfortable inside and is fitted out as close to primitive conditions as modern health and safety laws allow. The crannog dwellers lived with their animals in one room with a fire in the middle of the room and a communal raised bed. The crannog is surrounded by a deck which would be a lovely place to sit fishing in the summer.
We learned a lot during our tour about the lives of the crannog dwellers who lived in a time before written history. They enjoyed a good diet of beef, venison, mutton and goat meat from farmed and wild animals. The farm animals provided milk and cheese and wild ducks the occasional egg. The loch provided fish and grains like barley and wheat were grown with nuts and berries available in the nearby forest. The archaeological remains found in the peaty water of the loch were remarkably well preserved and finds include herbs, pollen, wooden butter dishes, human and animal waste and cooking utensils letting the historians build up a detailed picture of the lifestyle of prehistoric man. The tour guide was dressed in the clothes and leather slippers of the iron age and she encouraged us to ask questions.
After the tour of the crannog is finished there is a chance to try your hands at some Iron age crafts which are set out in another wooden tent. After visiting the crannog it is easy for us to idealise their simple lifestyle but these activities showed us exactly how hard they had to work. The first activity is wood turning using a lathe, the wood being used for building. The next activity is trying to make fire using sticks to make a spark. The third activity is grinding grain to make flour using stones. The fourth activity was to make holes in stones either by chipping away at them using other stones or by turning in a lathe. These stones were used for a variety of things like anchors for canoes or weaving looms and jewellery. The final activity was spinning thick chunks of sheep wool into thread using bobbins, the wool would eventually be used for making clothes and blankets.
The Scottish Crannog centre also has several special events during the year. When we visited the event was Primitive Pyrotechnic and Iron Age Bread and Butter Making. The name may be a bit of a mouthful but the event itself was great. For a small extra charge we were admitted into a special area where there were two separate tents set up for fire making and bread and butter making.
The ability to make fire was essential for the survival of the crannog dweller but unlike us he did not have matches or lighters at his disposal. The guide already had a couple of fires burning, one was being used to heat an iron cauldron and our job was to start new fires. The display had all of the various materials used to start fires from fungus and beech bark to flint and reeds. The fun part of the demonstration was trying to make sparks by rubbing a wooden stick with the aid of a pulley against a fireboard and then use that spark to ignite a fire. This sounds far easier than it actually was and much hilarity, frustration and competitiveness ensued as we all battled to be the first one to light a fire.
The bread and butter making demonstration was one which we all enjoyed, especially the kids. We were given a lump of dough made from spelt wheat flour ground by stone at the centre and had to kneed it and then shape it into a bread roll. We also had to churn our own butter using a paddle in a bowl of cream. Once the bread was baked in a clay oven we got to taste the fruits of our efforts, a delicious, dense and filling bread. The centre grows spelt wheat and it was great for the kids to see the process of bread making from the initial plant to the finished product.
There is a small kiosk at the centre selling hot and cold drinks and biscuits and cakes and you can sit outside at wooden tables to enjoy your drink. A small gift shop sells books, crafts, natural beauty products and toys.
Our visit to The Scottish Crannog Centre was enjoyed by all the members of our group which had kids ranging from the age of 3 to 13 and adults. It was an entertaining and educational afternoon and the hands on activities really brought history to life. Loch Tay is truly beautiful and a visit to The Scottish Crannog Centre can only enhance your appreciation of the area and its history.
For more information about The Scottish Crannog Centre including opening times, prices and special events see http://www.crannog.co.uk/index.html.