04 July 2022
A new National Trust for Scotland re-creation has officially opened after an experimental project to keep alive heritage building skills and share the story of Glencoe's lost homes.
The Glencoe turf and creel house has been inspired by years of archaeological investigation and historical research into long-vanished settlements, once home to hundreds of people in the heart of the glen.
The turf, wattle and thatch structure was erected using traditional materials, tools and techniques by a team of skilled craftspeople in 2021. It has the same footprint as one of the late 17th-century dwellings excavated by the conservation charity’s archaeologists and volunteers at the former township of Achtriachtan, near the famous ‘Three Sisters’ of Glencoe.
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Visitors to Glencoe National Nature Reserve can now explore the turf and creel house for themselves at the National Trust for Scotland’s Glencoe Visitor Centre, where its heather-thatched roof and earth walls blend into their mountain backdrop.
While stepping inside to discover the workmanship that has gone into the building, visitors will also be immersed in the sounds of history, thanks to an installation that conjures up the sounds, speech and songs of life here in the glen 300 years ago.
Developed with the involvement of historians, musicians, local Gaelic speakers and school children, the soundscape comprises over 200 different sound elements that were carefully chosen to give the interior an authentic and evocative atmosphere, with each representing a different local story.
Listeners will hear the cry of wildlife and livestock, the commotion of construction and daily toil, the chatter of domestic life, and the sounds of socialising at a traditional evening ‘ceilidh’. Together they create a subtle backdrop of universally recognisable noises alongside overheard Gaelic voices.
The audio installation was designed by creative producer and sound artist Guy Veale, who has worked on numerous National Trust for Scotland projects.
Renowned local Gaelic musicians, Iain MacFarlane, Ingrid Henderson and Ewen Henderson, as well as the conservation charity’s own Fiona Mackenzie, curator of the Canna House Gaelic archive, are among those who contributed their voices and instrumental pieces to the soundscape. Young Gaelic speakers at Acharacle Primary School were also recorded to give the babble of children at play.
Focus on traditional skills
Historic Environment Scotland has been a key partner in the Glencoe turf and creel house project. It funded two trainees to support the project team while developing their own skills – one has been focused on traditional building crafts, while the other has focused on heritage engagement and interpretation.
Lucy Doogan, one of the HES trainees, grew up in Glencoe and can trace her family back to those who lived here at the time of the Massacre of 1692.
Lucy said: “It has been fantastic to have the opportunity to be part of this. Our creel house really helps visitors visualise a time when the glen itself would have looked very different to how it does today, home to a bustling community living in wee townships with a rich Gaelic culture. I hope we can rekindle this past while creating new stories here in the future.”
As well as the soundscape, visitors can join free daily guided tours around the turf and creel house, which give the chance to get a deeper insight into the project and the history which inspired it. There is also a new film charting the creel house’s construction in the Visitor Centre’s cinema.
For more information on Glencoe National Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre, check out the NTS website.
(report and image courtesy National Trust for Scotland)