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Crannogs in Scotland and Loch Earn

The term Crannog refers to small artificial islands which can be found in the majority of Scotland 's lochs and inland waters. From the surface, most crannogs look like uninteresting mounds of stone, from which timbers sometimes protrude. These small islands were constructed and occasionally lived on by people, as recently as the 17th century.

Crannogs can take a variety of forms. Most are circular or oval, but differ greatly in size. Average surface diameters range between 15 and 30m, although there are exceptions. The materials used to build Crannogs vary throughout Scotland . Crannogs found in the Hebrides seem to have been built primarily of stone whereas those found in mainland were predominantly built of wood. Most of this variation has been ascribed to differences in local environments. In general, people used materials which were easy to come by or immediately at hand.

The earliest loch-dwelling in Scotland is some 5,000 years old but people built, modified, and re-used crannogs in Scotland up until the 17th century AD. Throughout their long history crannogs served as farmers' homesteads, status symbols, refuges in times of trouble, hunting and fishing stations, and even holiday residences. In Highland Perthshire, the prehistoric crannogs were originally timber-built roundhouses supported on piles or stilts driven into the loch bed.

In more barren environments and in later periods tons of rock were piled onto the loch bed to make an island on which to build a stone house. Today the crannogs appear as tree-covered islands or remain hidden as submerged stony mounds. Several hundred have been discovered so far in Scotland although only a few have been investigated.

To visit a reconstructed crannog, go to the Crannog Centre at Kenmore on Loch Tay www.crannog.co.uk

On Loch Earn there are four known crannog sites. Two are visible having evolved into islands. The one at the westerly end of the loch is adjacent to Edinample Castle and local legend is that it is infested with rats. That is a myth and the rumour spread no doubt to keep mischievous little boys off the island!! The one at the east end, just off St Fillans is called Neish Island and hereby lies a tale!!


Early in the 17th century, the island was used as a place of refuge by the chieftain of the Neishes, a tribe of the MacGregors. The chief of the Macnabs, whose clan inhabited the area around Killin, had sent a party of men to purchase provisions at Crieff for his Christmas dinner, and on the way home, laden with good things, they were waylaid by the Neishes who overpowered them, stole the provisions, and let them go.

Macnab, when he heard their story, was furious and naturally wanted revenge. He called his 12 sons together and unfolded the following plan. As the Neishes possessed the only boat on Loch Earn, the sons were to carry a boat from Loch Tay over the hill to Loch Earn, in the dead of night, were to launch it, and attack the Neishes on their island stronghold. They waited for a suitable night when there was a full moon, when the chief spoke " Bhi'n oidche an oidche, nan ghillean an ghillean" which means "The night is the night, if the lads are the lads". The 12 sons set out, shouldering their boat, and started the long trek up Ardeonaig Glen and down Glentarken to Loch Earn.

The Neishes thinking themselves secure in their island fastness, were all asleep and had neglected to mount a guard, so the Macnabs landed unobserved and made short work of their enemies. It is said that the whole tribe was wiped out except for one small boy who managed to swim ashore unnoticed, and that from him are descended the Neishes now extant. Since then it has been called Neish Island .

The 12 sons of Macnab, their mission accomplished, started back for Loch Tay, but some way up Glentarken they tired of carrying their boat and abandoned it, and the remains were to be seen there for many years after. When Ian Min or Smooth John, the eldest son of Macnab, told his father what had been done and exhibited the head of the Neish chieftain, the old man said,


Permission to use this story has been given by The Achray House Hotel at St Fillans in Perthshire www.achray-house.co.uk


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