Wish you could travel in time? Well you can in Highland Perthshire! (Well almost… just bring a little imagination with you.)
For 20 years, The Scottish Crannog Centre has been delivering a unique glimpse into the life of the Celtic people who lived along the shore of Loch Tay 2500 years ago.
You can sit inside the Crannog – their timber-built roundhouse, built on stilts among the shallows of the loch – examine some of their original artefacts, carefully excavated from the ancient remains piled on the lochbed, and even have a go at the skills they would have prized, like wood-turning or fire-making without matches.
There’s no doubt a visit to the Centre is inspirational, educational and fun – a fact proven by its status as a 5-star visitor attraction, awarded by VisitScotland, and the recommendation of countless visitors on TripAdviser and 4500 followers on Facebook.
It’s fair to say that The Scottish Crannog Centre has put underwater and experimental archaeology on the map! At least for the UK. There have been visits from royalty (Prince Charles came in 2001) and TV stardom; the popular TimeTeam did a special broadcast from the site in 2003.
International recognition came in 2007, with the Centre’s inclusion as the sole UK partner in an EU-funded Culture 2000 project. That brought together eight European open air museums focused on archaeological reconstruction and living history, to share experience and best practice.
“Over the years, the centre has successfully blended its role as a visitor attraction, an educational resource for schools and university students, and as a research and conservation body,” says Barrie Andrian, who has been Managing Director of the Centre since it opened.
Its success, particularly in those last two roles, was cemented in 2017 by the confirmation that it is now accredited as a museum by Museums Galleries Scotland. “Accreditation is the professional ‘kitemark’ for Scotland’s museums,” says Barrie, “and demonstrates the value of the work we do with our collection and for visitors. It is fantastic recognition for all the team’s work, and is a real game-changer, opening up access to new grants and funds that will help with safeguarding and display of the collection and enable wider public access to it both physically and digitally.”
The Centre opened in 1997, following two years of experimental construction of the crannog, using many authentic tools and processes – as best as the team from the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology can tell. STUA is the registered charity (SC018418) that set up and still operates the Centre.
The Trust was co-founded with Barrie’s husband, Dr Nick Dixon*, whose original diving on Oakbank Crannog by Fearnan inspired the creation of the Centre. “The wealth of structural remains, together with a wide range of objects including plant and food remains, inspired us to recreate the crannog and interpret the lives of Tayside’s early Iron Age loch-dwellers in a purpose-built centre.”
In its first year, the Centre was named ‘Most Enjoyable Visitor Attraction in Perthshire’, and the vision of Nick and Barrie has ensured its popularity has gone on to grow year-on-year.
In its 20th season, (the centre opens between April and October) more than 21,000 people came to experience a little of what life was like all those years ago. And the Centre picked up another accolade: as regional finalist in the Scottish Thistle Awards for Best Heritage Tourism Experience.
Every season, special events on-site feature artists, musicians, skilled craft workers, and other specialists who, together with the trained team of Iron Age Guides, actively bring the past to life in a rich and rewarding way for all ages, and especially children. “Next year, which appropriately is designated by the Scottish Government as the Year of Young People, one of our permanent team, Rich Hiden, is launching a new Young Archaeologists Club. It will be run out of the Centre, under the banner of the Council for British Archaeology and aims to inspire young people through hands-on skills opportunities and field trips to archaeological sites across Scotland.”
Another exciting project running over the next two years is www.livingonwater.scot. “Funded by Historic Environment Scotland, and involving scientists and several universities as well as the STUA, this research project will allow us to refine the dating of some of the early Iron Age crannogs around the loch, get a clearer picture of which were in use when, and so develop a social history of Loch Tay, focused on the crannog dwellers.”
The 2018 season will also be the first under a new director, Mike Benson, as Barrie retires this month. She and her husband will remain involved with further underwater research and museum developments.
“I’m very proud of our team, of what we’ve discovered, and what we’ve built in the last 20 years. We’ve had great support along the way, with grants from Europe, a range of Trusts, from Perth & Kinross Council and from the Rural Perth & Kinross LEADER Programme, which most recently helped fund our centre-piece 20th anniversary event, The Celts are Coming.
“We’ve also had great support from the local community, including volunteers who support our events and those who helped us do extensive maintenance last winter. That work should keep the Crannog in great shape for the next two decades.”
If you haven’t been before (or even if you have), make the 2018 season your chance to travel in time.
The Scottish Crannog Centre reopens on 31 March 2018.