Bits 'n Bobs Author Blog
What is a crannog? A crannog is a manmade or modified natural island found throughout the lochs of Scotland and Ireland.
A dwelling over the water.
Why would you do such a thing? For several reasons, really. First, how lovely would it be to enjoy a home situated over the water? Lulled to sleep by the lap of water against the pilings. Fresh fish and other water delicacies literally on your doorstep.
But in 500 B.C., the inhabitants of this and other crannogs had other reasons.
Perhaps safety was a reason. Crannogs typically didn't have a pier stretching to the land, and were reached only by boat. Or, if they had one, there was a substantial gap to discourage unwanted visitors such as wolves, wild boar and two-legged villains.
Actually, crannogs were a status symbol. Anyone who has spent the summer in Scotland can attest to the fact that midges are a torment to people stuck on land. So, wealthy people escaped the irritating, blood-sucking midges by building their homes on the water.
They were quite durable. Many crannogs have been found to have outlived the supporting timbers. New ones were added over the years until they simply could add no more.
And, there was, in 300 B.C., a lack of suitable building sites. Land was difficult to clear, and such was generally used to grow crops.
A single crannog could house quite a few people. Its woven walls were stuffed with dried bracken for insulation, and a fire pit in the center helped keep the place warm. As did the cows, sheep, goats, pigs and perhaps ducks that lived inside as well.
(an aside: there were no chickens at this time. They were brought to Scotland by the Romans)
The floors were also covered with brackens to minimize the draft beneath your feet. The tall, conical roof shed rain and snow very well. Smoke would rise, escaping through cracks in the thatch. There was no hole in the center of the roof, but doors on either side could be opened to draw the smoke if necessary.
Perhaps you can see the activities in this diorama.
Archaeologists have found (or found evidence of) hazelnuts, butter, cheese, smelt oats, barley, strawberries, raspberries, cloud berries, cloth, jewelry (swan-neck tunic fasteners, pins, beads and even jet--which would have come from Yorkshire), and opium poppy seeds (which indicates trade with the far east).
In one of the above photos, you will see a cloth loom. Natural coloring agents were used, such as dog's mercury, wild carrot, dock leaves and agrimony or yellow and orange; cleaverroot, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and tormentil root for reds and pinks; blueberries to create blue, and various roots for browns.
At the crannog center, we were given the opportunity to use three different types of lathes, grind grain, and operate a device for drilling holes in rocks. And our guide explained the process for making fire. (But that's tomorrow's post)
The monument is surrounded by thistle and heather and the sighs of more than 1500 Jacobites who lost their lives April 16, 1746 on Culloden Moor.
The plaque on the monument reads:
"The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor, 16th April, 1746. The graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans."
It had been a long and bitter morning, made the more unbearable by the long cold, march the night before. Exhausted, soldiers had slipped away before dawn to snatch a bit of rest or perhaps a bite of food. The army that was rallied at dawn, April 16, 1746, was not the same as the one Prince Charlie had commanded only hours before.
They lined up on Culloden Moor, a difficult place for a battle, as its boggy ground did not allow for much progress from either the Jacobite or the Government side. Bombarded by mortar and cannon shot, the Jacobites held back, awaiting the command to charge. The air was filled with smoke, hail, gunfire and canister shot. When at last given the command to attack, the Jacobites fought ferociously, though many never reached the government lines. The feared Highland Charge was countered by a new bayonet tactic by the government soldiers, and it is believed more than 700 Jacobite soldiers were killed within a few minutes of intense hand-to-hand fighting. The Jacobite charge broke through the government line, but was forced back.
I walked the moor--drained years ago and not boggy this day. The sky lowered, promising rain. Visitors slipped past me, searching for cairn markers, remnants of the battle. And the ghostly voices of soldiers dipped and swayed above the moor.
You can almost hear the rattle of musketry in the rustle of the tall grass, smell the smoke in the heavy clouds.
And perhaps even see the flutter of Prince Charlie's flag in the dip and sway of the wildflowers.
The moor casts its spell on all who linger. And the ghosts whisper their betrayal and sorrow to those who believe.
The Balnuaran of Clava is a site of a prehistoric cemetery. The monuments - a 'ring cairn' and two passage graves - were built between 3 and 4 thousand years ago.
As a tomb went out of use, it was surrounded by a ring of standing stones.
The ground was very rocky, and it was easy to see where the stones came from to build the cairns. But the standing stones??
In the 1870s, the stones were interpreted as druids' temples and the landowner planted a grove of trees enclosing the three largest monuments.
Some of the trees are rowans, thought to protect against ghosts, witches and other evils. Coincidence?
The 'passage graves' originally were domed and covered with a single slab. While the main chamber was approximately 10 feet high, the passageway was quite low and had to be crawled through.
The North-east passage grave is carefully aligned on the midwinter solstice. Normally the chamber would be dark, but on this shortest day of the year, it was illuminated by the setting sun.
This was the day we would visit Culloden Moor. We had a bit of travel from Aberfeldy to Inverness, and had some interesting chats during the trip.
I thought I'd share a few things I found interesting amid some of my favorite flower and scenery photos from the trip.
What is mizzle? We experienced mizzle quite often on our trip. It is, simply, somewhere between a mist and a drizzle. It means you need to take a raincoat and perhaps an umbrella with you most days.
What is a Piss-Prophet? That was a rather derogatory term for English physicians who would, after taking a verbal history, examine a patient's urine for diagnostic purposes. Supposedly, taste was as important as color and odor. Treatments of the era (1700s) were often applying hot plasters to the patient's feet, or perhaps bleeding them. If you were fortunate, you might get sent to the apothecary who would likely dispense booze or laudanum.
By contrast, medicine in 18th century Scotland was largely influenced by ideas and procedures practiced on the Continent. With the Scottish court in exile in Rome, travel between Italy and Scotland flourished, bringing with it a period of Enlightenment. Physicians were taught to wash their hands between patients. Not that they had knowledge of bacteria, but simply because it was noted patients healed better under clean conditions. It seems a simple thing, but deadly for patients whose unenlightened surgeons waved the idea aside as poppycock.
What does it mean to be 'put to the horn'? The sheriff would blow 3 times on his horn before declaring a person an outlaw.
There are ~50 distilleries on the River Spey. They produce a light, honeyed whisky.
By comparison, whisky distilled in Campbelltown on the Kintyre Peninsula has more of a peat taste.
Gaelic was first a spoken language, not a written one, so the monks decided the spellings of words as they began writing. They made a lot of bad choices. Anyone who has tried pronouncing words written in Gaelic can perhaps attest to this.
Marriage could be accomplished in 3 ways.
By special license: Many of these marriages were held outside the church, such as in ancestral homes, etc. They could be performed at any hour, any day, and with no banns posted.
In a church: Banns were read once a week for three weeks prior to the wedding to give ample time for reason for the couple not to marry to be brought to light.
Handfasting: This was to publicly declare a couple's intent to marry. After the declaration was consummated, it became a binding marriage. It was not a matter of marrying for a year and a day then dissolving the union if you wished.
By English law, none under the age of 21 years were allowed to marry without their father's consent. By contrast, 16 years was the age of consent to marry. Which is why love-lorn teenagers were disposed to run away to Scotland to marry. And Gretna was the first town over the border.
I'd love to hear other tidbits you may have! Feel free to comment below.
Our first stop this day was at Leault Farms for a sheep herding demonstration. We also chatted with the shepherd, Neil Ross, about the farm, his job, and his world view.
There were 5 puppies he was already training, accustoming them to his voice and to follow him as he worked. Each dog is trained to the same verbal commands, but each responds to his/her own individual whistle commands. The results are amazing to watch.
With the dogs milling about his feet, Mr. Ross sent one to get the sheep. If you'll look in the first photo, you won't see the woolly creatures. They were over a small hill, out of sight. As he chatted with us, the dog raced away to do his job. Only the one command 'get the sheep' was given.
A few minutes later, the dog and sheep came toward us. All of the other dogs were alert, but remained close, ears tuned for their own command.
At one point, Mr. Ross had one of the dogs gather the sheep and weave them in and out among the prone border collies, rather like a ski slalom. He also demonstrated the complete trust and bonding as his blind dog herded the sheep to his commands.
Mr. Ross then singled out a sheep and (after showing us his shepherd's crook made from a sheep horn and a length of hazel wood), demonstrated how to hand-sheer a sheep. The sheep didn't seem to mind, and even peered out from behind Mr. Ross' knee to see what we were doing.
Here are a few final photos and notes below about Leault Farm.
Leault Farm takes its name from the Gaelic "Leth Allt" (pronounced Lay-alt) which means "dividing burn".
Leault Farm is part of Dunachton Estate, Kincraig, Scotland and is 11,000 acres in size.
There are about 2500 sheep and 22 beef cows on the estate.
At the fall gathers, it will take 9 men and 35 dogs 9 days to bring the sheep in from the mountains where they've grazed all summer. It's about a 12 mile round trip.
The Ross family have been shepherds on Dunachton Estate since 1962.
Neil Ross was born at home on Leault Farm and began competing in sheepdog trials at the age of 8.
Neil became the shepherd on Dunachton Estate in 2001 after his father retired.
The puppies pictured would each set your wallet back by about 1000 Scottish pounds, though the fully-trained adults will fetch 3000 pounds or more each.
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