Sally Pentecost, Communications Officer at DigIt! (The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’s celebration of Scottish archaeology) visited Taymouth Marina with some friends to relax and explore the history, heritage and archaeology around Taymouth Marina and Loch Tay. This is what they got up to . . .
You may not think of archaeology as a particularly glamorous pursuit, and normally you’d be right; mud up to your knees, windswept hair and port-a-loos certainly come to mind when I think about a dig. But experiencing Scotland’s incredible archaeology doesn’t have to involve blisters and thermal underwear. When Taymouth Marina, luxury self-catered accommodation near Aberfeldy in Perthshire, offered that I stay in one of their apartments and experience all the area had to offer, I jumped at the chance. The Marina were kind enough to offer any one of their homes, so I decided to put them to the test and bring some friends along. My Dungeons & Dragons group adventure around Scotland twice a year, once in summer and once in late autumn, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to explore a little further from the capital than usual. I also wanted to see if I could get my friends interested in archaeology, which Perthshire has in spades (no pun intended). I figured that if I was ever going to hook them, this was the best place to start.
The drive from Edinburgh to Aberfeldy takes less than two hours; but on a late November evening, in heavy traffic and sheeting rain, we were eager to get inside and warm. In the pitch black the lights of the Marina, which appeared to be floating on the side of Loch Tay, guided us in. We were staying in 6 Lawers view, a spacious 3 bedroom house ideal for families and groups, so if like us, you don’t mind sharing a bed with a pal, then this place is for you. Finding accommodation big enough for our group of seven has been tricky in the past, so we were excited to see what the Marina had to offer. We were not disappointed.
A warm, tiled entrance hall was a convenient space for us to shake off our wet coats and muddy shoes before entering the main living space. Peeling off our sodden socks and hanging them on the radiators to dry, we eagerly checked out the rest of the house. The hallway opened out onto a bright open plan living and dining area with double height-ceiling, modern kitchen, dining table and chairs, and two large sofas. We put away our food and turned our attention to the first tradition of our group getaways, fighting over the rooms.
This wasn’t as difficult as it normally is, as each of the three bedrooms was beautifully presented and inviting. The tallest member of our group in 6’7” which means that some beds can leave him with cold feet, but the beds in 6 Lawers view were perfect, and long enough for even the tallest basketball player to get a good night’s sleep.
The lower floor consisted of a master double bedroom with an en suite bathroom, a twin room also with an en suite, and another double bedroom with its own bathroom just off the hall. Each of the property’s four bathrooms contained double power showers, and were sparkling clean. One of our group, Michael, made it clear that he would be sleeping in “The Giraffe Room” as he’d very quickly become taken with the six giraffes on the artwork and pillows in one of the double bedrooms.
I decided to take the sofa bed in the living room, facing the large French doors. Our house was located at the rear of the site, which, I was told, meant that it boasted some of the best views of the loch. I had a feeling there was an amazing view waiting for me in the morning, plus, with the bathroom in the entrance hall, there was no fear of having to tip-toe downstairs at night when nature called.
Our weekend away had serendipitously landed on Michael’s twenty-fifth birthday. We brought a cake and presents which we presented to him that evening. Side note: don’t buy joke candles which refuse to blow out. They are fun for all of 20 seconds, after which time you’re left with the problem of how to extinguish them and a very waxy cake.
The large dining table comfortably hosted our group for board games. Unstable Unicorns to start, with Dungeons & Dragons to follow. Afterwards we settled down to enjoy the wall-mounted flat screen TV. A very brief browse through the Sky channels led Olivia to pick out the rugby, and later we debated over which Netflix shows we’d all like to watch.
Then it was off to bed. After everyone left the living room I settled down on the large, comfy sofa bed and slept soundly. In the morning, before anyone else emerged, I woke up and opened the blinds to reveal the most stunning scenery. Taymouth Marina’s motto is ‘Come to the View’, and they really aren’t kidding.
The table was a big hit again in the morning for our group’s traditional breakfast. Plenty of counter space and lots of pans helped enormously. We even managed not to burn the food, which is how our breakfasts usually turn out. Loading the dirty crockery into the dishwasher, we pulled on our walking boots (now bone dry thanks to the excellent central heating) and headed off to explore for the day. We planned to take a circular route round Loch Tay, hitting up as many archaeological sites as possible; no quick feat given that the Loch is over 14 miles long. We had a packed schedule, and our first stop was The Scottish Crannog Centre.
Even out of season the crannog is a sight to behold. Completed in 1997, this extraordinary timber-built roundhouse supported on stilts is a replica of a Neolithic water dwelling common in prehistoric Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Hundreds of crannogs existed in Scotland from the late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, around 3000 years ago. Built on rivers, lakes and lochs around Europe, crannogs were usually made of timber, or stone in more barren areas such as the Western Isles.Today, crannogs exist as tree-covered islands or remain hidden as submerged stony mounds.
We walked the 100 metres from our house to the visitor’s centre for the 11am tour. After being greeted by curator Frances, we got up close to some of the incredible artefacts in the museum. All were dug up from the loch bed when the crannog was built, or found at nearby crannog sites around Loch Tay.
The Crannog Centre has just been awarded funding by Museums Galleries Scotland to redevelop their galleries; soon items in the museum collection never before seen by the public will go on general display.
At the beginning of our tour we were shown outside to the crannog, looking resplendent in the late autumn sun. Situated mere yards from the marina, it’s strange how the prehistoric crannog does not look out of place sat beside the twenty-first-century jetty.
Inside the structure, with the fire going the single room felt spacious and cosy. Until that is, we learned that most crannogs were built to accommodate extended families of up to 12 people. We were thankful for our very spacious house at Lawers View. We also tested out making prehistoric tools in the living history dwellings on the bank of Loch Tay.
In the off season, in the absence of traditional food for visitors to taste and re-enactors giving demonstrations, we were offered a complimentary hot drink. Frances told us about lots of other hidden archaeological gems to seek out along our route, and we set off fired up to see more.
A short distance south-west of the Crannog Centre is Croft Moraig. A Bronze Age stone circle in a field right next to the main road. We got up close to check out the cup and ring marked stones (an example of Pictish art over 1,500 years old) and the standing stones forming a distinct circle in the field. Not as colossal and statuesque as the stones at the fictional Craigh na Dun of Outlander fame[, but that didn’t stop Olivia from doing her best Claire impression.
(Kinnloch Rannoch, about 12 miles north-west of Croft Moraig, was used for the Outlander filming, but the stones there are a product of the show’s outstanding set designers).
The next stop on our tour was the village of Killin at the western head of Loch Tay. The west end of the village is magnificently sited around the scenic Falls of Dochart which, due to the heavy rain the night before, were roaring loudly. Though Killin is a small village, it is steeped in history; the MacNab Clan were once dominant here, and their ancient burial ground is nearby. According to legend, the progenitor of the clan was the Abbot of Glen Dochart and Strathearn, Abraruadh. Abraruadh was allegedly a younger son of Kenneth MacAlpin, the first king of Scots.
After a brief lunch stop in a nearby pub (which was also showing live rugby, much to Olivia’s delight), we headed off to track down Finlarig Castle just half a mile north of Killin. The weather had turned very dark and brooding, and made the castle all the more atmospheric for our visit. The site is privately owned and not maintained, so visitors proceed at their own risk. Finlarig is the remains of a four storey, L-plan castle built in the 1620s by Sir Duncan “Black Duncan” Campbell, seventh Laird of Glenorchy. It is also said that Rob Roy MacGregor visited the castle in 1713.
Wandering around the ruins we came across a large and mysterious rectangular pit,just outside its north wall. After a few best guesses as to its original function (rabbit housing, medieval swimming pool etc)a quick Google search told us that it was almost certainly a water storage tank in the absence of a well. However, reading on we learnt that legend records it as a beheading pit, which once held the heads of convicted criminals. With darkness rolling in, and feeling sufficiently spooked, we figured it best to drive back to the safety of the Marina.
Once home, we skipped the hot box sauna in favour of the more private hot tub on our ground floor deck. Having never been in a hot tub, I was unsure of how pleasant a bath in the chilly evening air would be. I was not alone in my scepticism and two of our number decided to give it a miss. As it turned out, it was their loss! The hot tub heated up surprisingly quickly, and the jets kept us comfortably warm. The experience was complete with a glass of fizz – I could certainly get used to this.
Back inside, fed, warm and dry, we spent our last evening chatting about what we’d seen that day. I may not have got my friends to agree on what was the best archaeology we’d seen, but we were all in agreement that Taymouth Marina had been the star of the weekend. So much so, that we were considering how much we could club together to buy one. Sadly, on the wages of seven 20-somethings, becoming property owners at Taymouth will have to wait, but we’ll definitely be back to stay again in the near future.
Perthshire, and especially the area around Loch Tay, have so much incredible Scottish history and archaeology to offer visitors. If you have time, definitely stop by Fortingall; an amazing and bizarre place home to a Roman fort, an ancient yew tree (which at over 3000 years old might literally be the oldest living thing in Europe!), connections to Pontius Pilate, more prehistoric stone circles – it should have its own TV series. And on Drummond Hill you can find the remains of the prehistoric fort known as Caisteal Mac Tuathal. The name is alleged to have a connection with Tuathal, son of Argusto, Abbot of Dunkeld in the ninth century and is one of the best-preserved forts of its kind. We found the staff at Taymouth Marina to be super passionate and knowledgeable about the area, so do pop in and ask for their recommendations, too.