Lochlea Crannog

The site at Lochlea crannog, also known as Lochlie or Lochlee, was a small loch on the grounds of Lochlea Farm, near Tarbolton in South Ayrshire. The 19th century saw many changes to the land on this site. This treeless, rain-soaked moorland was drained 1840 only to become marshy again and be re-drained in the 1870s. However, these fluctuations in the condition of the land revealed an interesting archaeological discovery - an artificial island. Before it was artificially drained for the first time, this small island would emerge in the summer months and provided a safe haven for nesting birds, yet no one had ever surmised it was once a dwelling site for some of our early human ancestors.

The rediscovery of this island prompted much excitement, and in 1878, Lochlea was excavated in a project led by Dr. Robert Munro, a medical doctor by profession in Kilmarnock, with interest in archaeological and anthropological pursuits. It was found that a foundation of brushwood was laid about 6ft deep into the ground, kept down by beams and stones and surmounted by clay, which was presumably clear of the surface of the water. The artificial island was established by driving in piles round the outer edges. In one area these piles formed two rows, one inside the other, round the outside of the crannog.


The crannog would have been around 40ft in diameter, with a fireplace contained in the dwelling made by bedding flat stones in clay with a boundary made by placing stones on their side. Four hearths of this type were found - one on top the other - meaning that the crannog would have been home to our ancestors over multiple periods of time. This notion is upheld by the many unique objects found on the site during excavations, with objects dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages, to the period of Roman occupation, and even later.


What is a crannog specifically?

 A crannog was a type of ancient fortified dwelling built on an artificial island built in a body of water, such as a loch or estuary. Crannogs are found in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales (which only has 1 example!). The earliest example was found on North Uist, and was dated to around 3650 to 2500 BCE. In Scotland, they were in their peak of construction and occupation between 800 BCE to 200 AD.


Ok, and I hear there's a Burns connection?

Of course, it's Ayrshire - there's a Burns connection! In 1777, the Burns family moved from Mount Oliphant to Lochlea when Robert Burns was 18, and it was his home for 7 years. As it was such a water-logged and mossy land, it was very difficult for William, Robert's father, to farm. The effort of attempting to turn the area into fertile agricultural land paired with legal disagreements with Lochlea's landlord ultimately led to the death of William in 1784.

Burns also met and fell in love with 'Highland Mary' (Mary Campbell) in the 1780s in church when he was living near Tarbolton. This was during a period when he was said to have felt abandoned by Jean Armour after her move to Paisley. Lochlea was very likely his home at the time.



Further reading:

Cressey, M., Finlayson, W. L. (1996) 'Lochlea, near Mauchline (Tarbolton parish), evaluation',  Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, pp.97-98

Munro, R. (1882) Ancient Scottish lake Dwellings or Crannogs. Edinburgh: David Douglas. 

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