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The Crannog--The Life Of Ancient Scotland

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

the water of a Scottish loch when wooden structure to the left.
Loch Tay near the Scottish Crannog Centre

The scenery of Scotland sneaks up on you and can take your breath away, from a sudden view of the highlands to the reflection in the many waterways known as lochs.

From the shores of many lochs and estuaries in Scotland, you'll spy small islands (islets) or mounds. They make for great photos, with a mound of trees reflecting in sparkling water.

Small island (islet) with trees with reflection in water.
Adobe Stock photo of Scottish Crannog

But after you've has seen a few of these, they seem strangely the same. That's because they are man-made islets known as crannogs, a remnant of ancient, Iron-age Scotland. As more archeological projects explore these man-made islets, carbon dating revealed they may have existed as far back as 3,500 BC. Crannogs were constructed in many ways, including on free-standing timbers or piles of rocks.

The BBC has a nice article on the mysterious crannogs.

In Kenmore, on the shores of Loch Tay, you can delve into ancient Scottish life. The Scottish Crannog Centre is a local (and national) gem, with a museum, workshops, and hands-on demos of the tools of ancient Iron-age days. Iron-age archeological finds continue to be discovered and sent to the Centre; these are well-preserved due to lying undisturbed protected by silt. Loch Tay is a great location for the Centre, as there are at least 18 crannogs discovered there so far.

Guided tours include an interpreter who provides stories of those who inhabited Loch Tay and gives a tour of the museum, alongside a number of interactive demonstrations of ancient crafts and technologies. You can sometimes rent a log canoe to explore the Loch.

The video includes two short examples of ancient tools, reconstructed by apprentices at the Centre.

When we were there, we explored the inside of a crannog building, painstakingly built by experts over three years. Sadly, the actual crannog reproduction, which had been built using what was known of the construction techniques of the day, suffered a quick and devastating fire in summer of 2021. It's worth the visit, even if the structure is still to be rebuilt.

A thatched-roofed wooden structure on a lack, with a pier to land.
The original reproduction crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre, burnt down by fire in summer 2021. The Centre still operates with their museum, guides, demonstrations and workshops. Plans to expand and move the Centre to the other side of the loch are underway.

Fortunately, plans were already being developed to move the Centre to a larger area on the other side of the Loch. In June 2020, the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archeology had a plan approved by Forestry and Land Scotland to "create a new state of the art museum and visitor centre, to look after, research and interpret the Scottish Crannog Centre’s nationally important collection of artefacts."

The new Centre will also enable them to expand their apprenticeship program and build its work with schools and universities. It will include multiple authentic reproductions of crannogs. Sounds as if it will be an exciting, immersive experience.

But then, the basics of the existing, surviving Centre offer that immersion. The Centre continues to offer tours, the museum, and workshops at the original site. Half-day and full-day hands-on workshops based on Iron-age crafts are available. The half-day workshop currently available gives you a sampler of Iron-age crafts. Full-day workshops includes everything from making your own belt and tunic to basketry.

Going to be in the area? Here's more:

  • Nearby Alberfelty is home to some really great Scotch whisky. Check out Dewar's website for tour and tasting information.

  • The Kenmore Hotel is beautiful and interesting place to stay. Built originally as a tavern and inn in 1502, it was expanded in 1572 to become The Kenmore Hotel and is widely known (but not indisputably) as the oldest hotel in Scotland. Our door required my husband to duck because it was so short, but the quaint rooms, corridors, and bar hold every modern convenience.

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