The Scottish Crannog Centre stands close to the north east end of Loch Tay, half a mile from the village of Kenmore. If you are driving, follow the single track road along the south east side of the loch from its junction with the A827. Parking is shared with the neighbouring marina. What you find is a superb attraction that transports you back around 2,500 years and brings to life a uniquely Scottish and Irish way of life.
A crannog is a circular structure usually built to provide housing for an extended family. Their truly defining feature is that they were built in or above water. Most were built by driving wooden stakes into the bed of a loch to define a circular area, which would often also be raised by placement of material from the shore. Where wood was less abundant, crannogs could also take the form of artificial (or artificially extended) islands, created by dumping large quantities of rock on the loch bed.
Several hundred crannogs - or rather their remains - have been found in Scotland, compared with well over a thousand in Ireland (and one in Wales). Lake-dwelling first came into vogue in Scotland some 5,000 years ago, and crannogs were still being used, and perhaps built, as recently as the 1600s. They seem to have been used for a wide variety of purposes, including homesteads, refuges and status symbols. (Continues below image...)
For reasons that remain unclear, Loch Tay was home to a particular concentration of crannogs, with the remains of over twenty having been found to date. No-one knows what the relationship between the residents of these crannogs was. One of them, the Oakbank Crannog, found near Fearnan by the north shore of the loch, was excavated by the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology in the 1980s. In 1994 work began on construction of a replica of the Oakbank Crannog. The result is the star attraction of today's Scottish Crannog Centre, a crannog supported on 168 timber piles driven into the loch bed, supporting a thatched roundhouse on a timber platform some 15m in diameter. The crannog is connected to the shore of the loch by a 20m long timber causeway and is intended to represent a crannog in use in about the fifth century BC: i.e. around 2,500 years ago.
Your visit begins in the reception and shop in a rather more modern building beside the road on the south east shore of the loch. From here you move through to a fascinating exhibition area setting out the background to crannogs in Scotland, and their residents. A number of exhibits from the excavated Oakbank Crannog are on display here. Your "Crannog Experience" then takes place in a group conducted by one of the centre's Iron Age Guides. We'd have to admit to having a limited attention span, especially when visiting primarily to take photographs, but our guide, Dirk, was absolutely superb, managing to infect everyone with his obvious enthusiasm for crannogs, while at the same time giving us the benefit of his deep understanding of the subject.
The "Crannog Experience" begins in the crannog itself, which was intended to house a large household and its livestock. Perhaps the greatest surprise was how snug it felt it would be, even in a winter storm. The discussion was enthralling, and ranged from the absence of an obvious exit for smoke from the central hearth to the likelihood of the residents catching fish as part of their diet (highly likely, but oddly not reflected in evidence found in excavations). The discussion was enlivened further by the handing round of recreated artefacts, made using today's best understanding of the technology available at the time.
Back on dry land the experience continues with a series of demonstrations of that technology in action. We saw a number of different types of wood-turning lathes demonstrated, and cereal grinding, thread spinning and stone drilling. But the most fascinating of all, inevitably, was a demonstration of fire lighting using friction. We've all seen this sort of thing done on the survival programmes available to view on obscure satellite TV channels, but there's something about seeing someone do it for real that is deeply impressive, almost awe-inspiring.
The nature of the reconstructed crannog means that access along a walkway made of round logs can be an issue. There is more information available on the centre's website, linked from this page. They also suggest that high-heeled shoes and flip-flops are not advisable.