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Loch Tay's crannogs

Scotland, 500 B.C.

Loch Tay's crannogs were built thousands of years ago, but modern-day visitors find them
(and Iron Age life) surprisingly comfortable.

BY TERRY WILLIAMS

"A crannog is a type of ancient loch-dwelling found throughout Scotland and Ireland dating from 2,500 years ago. An important part of our heritage, 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."

John McGarry held up his bowl of Iron Age fire. Judging by the grin on his face, this demonstration was a favourite part of his guided tour, and no wonder. Success had involved several energetic minutes of spinning wood on wood to produce a small heap of glowing ash, followed by a good few lungfuls of heavy breathing until glow became spark, and finally flame. It usually worked, he told me, clearly relishing the element of uncertainty.

My journey from Inverness to the Scottish Crannog Centre at the east end of Loch Tay had taken two hours. Shortly after parking the car, I travelled 2,500 years in three minutes as I followed John across an alder-log walkway into a round timber building perched on stilts over the water. It's quite difficult to avoid letting your jaw drop when entering a life-size crannog for the first time. Cathedrals can have a similar effect.

"Twenty-seven feet high," said John. "Please don't look up with your mouth open, because we have swallows nesting in here...."

We were standing under a conical framework of 49 alder trees, with four tons of river-reed thatch on top of that. The reeds were from Errol, between Perth and Dundee. They were donated to the 20th-century reconstruction project and gratefully received, though the original crannog dwellers would have used straw, rushes or bracken, or a combination of those, not having access to the large reed beds of the lower River Tay.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2013 issue of Scottish Life.

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