Tag Archives: crannogs

My Highland Adventure: Diving Loch Achilty Crannog and HMS Natal

by Duncan Ross

During lockdown, apart from eating too many pancakes, NASAC (Nautical Archaeology Society affiliated diving club) member Duncan Ross set himself a grand future task of visiting different kinds of underwater archaeological sites around Britain. This summer he managed to add a couple of unique Scottish sites to his gradually-expanding list.

After around two years of communication, in August 2022 I was invited to help out on a crannog investigation in the fairly anonymous Loch Achilty, just a little north of Inverness city. Assisting North of Scotland Archaeology Society (NOSAS) member Richard Guest and his intrepid team, I spent two days at a most-tranquil setting scuba diving, investigating, recording and taking photos and film of a site that could be anything from a couple of hundred years to a couple of thousand years old. 

Richard Guest explores mysterious timber and rocks around the Loch Achilty crannog: Image: Duncan Ross

Crannogs are a fairly unchartered area in the field of archaeology, and most questions about their creation and the purpose of their locations within lochs remain unanswered and open to speculation. All that usually remains is an artificial island of stones piled on top of one another – artefacts and human traces are frustratingly rare, as are diagnostic patterns that could lead to a method of classification. The crannog centre at Loch Tay focuses on the iron age roundhouse model that was discovered there, but little proof exists that others were constructed and utilised in the same way. The depth of the Loch Achilty crannog, previously unrecorded, is an ultra-accessible 2.5 metres. Needless to say, dive times were extremely long for Richard and myself.

Richard Guest and Duncan Ross prepare to place garden canes around the crannog to aid with measurements. Image: Elizabeth Blackburn
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The NOSAS Crannogs Project

by Richard Guest

I have long been fascinated by crannogs. These are articial island dwellings such as the one in Loch Achilty, pictured above (see Canmore).  I remember back in the 80’s tiptoeing across a partly submerged causeway to visit one in a Shetland lochan.  Then, later, visiting the reconstruction in Loch Tay and seeing a TV programme about it.  Later still, whilst on a Nautical Archaeology Society training course I met one of the divers who had been on the Loch Tay project and heard first hand what it was like to make such amazing discoveries.

About 10 years ago, my late wife Jonie and I decided to try and walk out to the Redcastle crannog in the Beauly Firth (see Canmore).  About twenty squelchy steps was enough to convince us that this was a BAD IDEA and we retreated to solid land.  And oh! The smell!  So the next expedition was by boat at high tide and we passed over Phopachy crannog (see Canmore), which we could see on the sounder but could make nothing out through the water.  Another trip at a lower state of tide, we could see the crannog but the water around it was too shallow to approach in the boat.  We didn’t try again.

What we did do was to dive around another crannog, the one in Loch Brora (see Canmore).  The water was so peaty we saw literally nothing.  We knew we had reached the bottom when we felt it beneath us.  I put my hand in front of my mask but couldn’t see it, even with a powerful torch.  I think I could feel some square timber but it might have been a modern fence post caught in weed.

More recently I became aware, through both diving and archaeology sources, of discoveries of Neolithic pottery found underwater around crannogs in the western isles (see Current Archaeology article).  This exploded the received wisdom that crannogs were of iron age to post medieval date.  Then in 2021 NOSAS were lucky enough to have a “Zoom” lecture about crannogs, by Michael Stratigos from the University of York, which is available on You Tube (below). This is when the idea for a NOSAS crannogs project was born.

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