This is the second in a series of 4 posts which describe a short cycling tour of the Scottish Highlands. The first can be found here.
We had ridden a fair way along the edge of Loch Tay by lunch time and the sky was starting to look ominously dark. We came across a place advertising hot food and tours of a ‘Crannog’. I had no idea what a Crannog was, never having heard the term before. But it looked like a promising place for a hot cup of coffee, so we stopped.
And how lucky that we did! We were in for an unexpectedly long lunch break with a history lesson built in for good measure.
Imagine a round, wooden dwelling built out over the water, connected with the shore by a long bridge made of poles. This is precisely what we found! An historical society had built this Crannog to show people what they were like, as none of the original dwellings exist anywhere today (they were constructed and used during the Iron Age).
We spent an hour exploring the interior of the building which is the only one in existence. This one had been constructed using techniques researched from archeological evidence and discoveries from a real Crannog which existed on the other side of the loch. There is plenty of evidence showing where these houses used to be and divers have done a lot of work on these sites (they are now mostly under water). We were even shown an ancient butter dish which had been found in the excavations, complete with rancid butter in the bottom!
All the construction of the replica had been done by hand (as it would have been so long ago) – long poles were driven into the lake bed in a circle, using a rotating, drilling technique. Cross poles were then lashed between the poles and this formed the base of a house floor, well above the level of the lake.
Upright poles formed frames for the walls and support for roofing poles. The roof was made of thatch and the walls built using flexible woven branches which could bend with the round shape of the walls. I was amazed at how warm and insulated the house was (it has a thick cover of thatch on the roof, this helps I am sure!). The floor is made of lashed poles with lots of bracken leaf on top – very cosy).
The dwelling is connected to the land by the aforementioned wooden bridge. The distance from the shore is thought to have provided security as well as relief from midges (they do not fly over water).
Crannogs were the homes of the affluent, and were often habited by large extended families. If you are interested in finding out more, please check out this website for excellent information on both the tourist site and Crannogs in general.
After our fascinating foray into Iron Age domestic life, we turned our attention back to the weather. Looking up the lake, we could see the rain – just about on us….
We quickly donned our wet weather gear, and started our afternoon ride into the advancing wet. We rode in steady rain for about an hour and a half. The scenery was magnificent and was made more stunning by the plentiful water which was rushing down the slopes on our left, over little waterfalls and then disappearing under the road and into the Loch.
We stopped quite a few times to take photos and to capture video footage of creeks and the water cascades which were quite noisy. There was almost no traffic which made the whole experience even more wonderful!
However, about 20 minutes from Killin, I had had enough of being wet! My feet had finally got thoroughly soaked, and I don’t cycle very happily with my feet going squelch squelch as I work the pedals! But at least it wasn’t cold!
We arrived at Killin and were treated to another (unexpected but no less amazing) sight. The heavy rain had swollen the River Dochart, and the view from the bridge as we crossed the river was awesome. The Falls of Dochart are in full view from the bridge and they were quite spectacular and deafening!
We arrived at our destination looking and feeling like drowned rats. Our host, however, did not bat an eyelid as we dripped all over the doorstep to his hotel.
While staying at Pitlochry, we had learnt a technique to dry our shoes from someone who did a lot of mountain climbing in wet areas. This skill was learnt just in time, and we expressed much appreciation to the lady in question as we stuffed each soggy shoe with dry newspaper! This technique worked beautifully, and the shoes were considerably drier and quite wearable the following morning. Luckily, we were also able to get our clothes dry as well.
A change of clothing, a relaxing beer and a hearty pub meal later, we felt human again. It had certainly been a day with a lot of challenges, but we had seen so much and learnt a lot. We had also been thorougly soaked for the first time ever, while on a cycle tour!
The next part of this tour took us back along Loch Tay and then south over the range and into the next valley.
(Follow this link for details on the overall UK tour route).