Monday, 29 April 2013

Crannogs – the amazing artificial islands that abound in Perthshire’s many Lochs


 
 
The Reconstructed Crannog On Loch Tay Near Kenmore



 Over the last year in these “blogs “ we have  looked at many of the older historical aspects of Perthshire and indeed Strathearn in particular . The Strath  was a haven for the wandering tribes of the Neolithic period that were spreading out over Western  Europe . Spreading out and into a Scotland that was not to emerge as a nation for nearly four and half thousand years .

The ubiquitous standing stones that still stare down upon us from the farm fields all a round are a remnant of the ancient past . Recent archaeological investigations have thrown   light upon the hitherto unknown Neolithic Cursus that bisects the ground that is the new Strathearn Campus . Diggings at Forteviot , some ten miles  east of Crieff , have  turned up numerous finds of this period .A Bronze age grave  was unearthed  complete with a gold – banded dagger still wrapped  in its

4 000 year old  sheath . The significance  of this became  quite clear when the grave  was identified . It had  been sealed  by an enormous  4 ton cap stone  which required a giant crane  to lift clear . This  was the last resting place  not of a simple tribesman  but in all probability  of an important chief , prince or perhaps  even a king . The dig  also turned up something that surprised the archaeologists . Organic  materials had  been preserved in the sealed grave .These included  a wooden bowl , what appeared to have been a leather bag and numerous plant fragments and some tree bark .When one puts these finds into an historical time scale , it is even more amazing . The grave  dates back to a period  when the Egyptian Pyramids were  being constructed all of 5 000 years ago !

Perthshire and Strathearn have more than just a few ancient sites such as Forteviot and the Cursus of Crieff . Our ancient fore bearers created numerous artificial islands on the multitude of lochs that abound in these airts. These are called crannogs and are artificial or natural modified islands constructed  by the people as far back as the Early Iron Age of 2500 BC . Strangely enough they are found scattered throughout Scotland  and Ireland  but with only one example in Wales and none in England . Crannogs  were constructed as defended  settlements usually by peace loving farmers who could  feel safe on their island homes surrounded  by  family , neighbours and of  course their precious animals .

Crannogs  although not entirely a Perthshire phenomenon are  very  much part and parcel of our ancient heritage . Research is still progressing mainly under the auspices of the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology based at the Crannog Centre on Loch Tay . The Centre is a wonderful  day out for the family and is located near Kenmore at the eastern end of the Loch not far from Kenmore . Full details  can be obtained  by logging into their web site www.crannog.co.uk . I quote from an excellent brochure produced  by the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust:

The results of underwater excavation at Oakbank Crannog , namely the mass of detailed information about the structure and the way of life of the inhabitants eventually led to the decision to reconstruct a full sized crannog near Kenmore on Loch Tay as an archaeological experiment. The crannog consists of a free standing timber platform supported by alder and oak piles , joined to the shore by a 16 metre long timber walk way .On the platform there is a round house with wattle walls and internal partitions surrounding a central hearth .The floors are made from small alder trees laid parallel to each other, like those discovered at Oakbank and they are covered with bracken from the hillside nearby . In everyway great efforts have been made to create a site as much as possible like an Iron Age crannog .The reconstructed crannog  is the core of the Scottish Crannog Centre comprising an exhibition centre to explain the work of the underwater archaeologists in Loch Tay over the years ; the reconstruction itself to show what a crannog would have been like ; and a demonstration area on shore where different aspects of ancient technologies are demonstrated and where the public can try their hand . In addition , regular  special events provide visitors with opportunities to learn more about Iron Age craft skills and to experiment with ancient methods of cooking , wood working and working with fibres .


 Loch Tay is indeed  the epicentre of the crannog discoveries  with over 18 revealed in a detailed survey of the loch carried out in 1979 .Their preservation can be attributed  to the  nature of the cold  peaty waters of Loch Tay The underwater survey and excavation at Oakbank and the subsequent reconstruction nearby has provided us with a unique example of living history . It should  be  made clear that this is not a new discovery – the presence of crannogs  has  been known for over 300 years and  the history of the area  first published in 1938  by  W Gillies – “ In Famed Breadalbane  “ mentioned and identified  some 13 sites .

Moving south  into Strathearn we can locate several crannogs  similar to those found in Loch Tay . Loch Earn at its St Fillan’s ( east ) end has one of the most notable and indeed  historically renowned “ islands “ . Neish Island is  well documented in local history being the base of the Clan Neish complete  with castle and small harbour . The Neishes  were natural enemies of the  adjoining Clan MacNab from over the hills in Killin . The story goes that a party of Neishes waylaid  a number of MacNabs returning with purchases from the Crieff market . Revenge  was swift  when the chief of the MacNabs  sent his oldest son “Smooth “ John MacNab and a number of his brothers  over the hills  to Neish Island  .They had  brought with them a  large boat  which they used to row over to the island and attacked the unfortunate inhabitants  .It was a massacre  with the only survivors  being reputed to have  been a young boy and his dog . The head of the chief  of Clan Neish  was taken as a trophy and thrown by Smooth John  at the feet of his father on their return to Killin !  

If  we proceed  east wards from Loch Earn and Neish Island  towards Crieff  we come  across  perhaps one of the most fascinating of  Perthshire’s crannogs . Loch Monzievaird ( pronounced mon –ee- vaird )  nestles in a picturesque setting below the country mansion house of Ochtertyre  once home of the Murray family and  now  owned  by Sir Brian Souter of Stagecoach bus fame . On the northern shore of the little loch lies a decaying pile of rubble – still easily discernible as a castle but somewhat spoilt by a multitude of warning signs and protective fencing advising of the dangers of falling masonry . Castle Cluggie was once the stronghold of the Comyn family – the Red Comyn in particular had a running feud with Robert King of Bruce and the sovereign was certainly no stranger to this part of the Strath . The castle is located on a piece of  land  jutting into the loch and  just to the west of it lies a small crannog known as Prison Island . The archaeology of this particular location has  been recorded in detail by the Perth& Kinross Heritage Trust and reveals an interesting  occupational pattern of the small island . The investigation  carried out by the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology revealed that an oak pile  projecting through the loch bed near the surface  was carbon dated as  sometime after 1660 .This contrasted dramatically with a piece of softwood projecting from a deep vertical section and carbon dated to a period  of between 800 and  480 BC . Expert conclusions state that this  is clear evidence of a settlement constructed in the Early Iron Age and reused very much later.

A lot of  fascinating  information concerning Perthshire’s crannogs has been published by the Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust in association with The Scottish Crannog Centre. Further details and purchase of booklets look up their web site http://www.pkht.org.uk/publications.php

Visitors  and locals alike can enjoy a great day out at the Crannog Centre Check out their web site on http://www.crannog.co.uk/

Kenmore is on the Perthshire Tourist Trail and accessible from all main centres .

2013 Main Season: Open daily from 29th March to 31st October. Opening times: 29th March to 30 October from 10am to 5:30pm; 31st Oct 10-4:00pm. In all cases, last full tours are one hour before closing. Other off-season group bookings welcome by appointment.

Standard admissions are

Adults: £8.00; Seniors:£7.50; Children £6.00; Families from £21 (2+1). Event day admissions are slightly higher.

All tickets are valid throughout the day of purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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