Niall A Logan
This is an unedited version of an article written by Professor Niall A. Logan that was first published in 2020 in Vernacular Buildings 43 which is published by the Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group (SVBWG) . Our thanks to SVBWG and Professor Logan for permission to publish the article here. Professor Logan retains copyright for the article and the associated images.
The Introduction to The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Stirlingshire, under the heading ‘Small Houses and Cottages’1 says that ‘mention should be made of a number of small settlements, the remains of which are preserved in the north-western or Highland area of the county’ – only half-a-dozen sites of this kind are listed in the Inventory – and the Introduction goes on to say: ‘The most interesting examples are Big Bruach-Caoruinn and Little Bruach-Caoruinn (Nos. 379 and 380) situated in Glen Dubh on the south-eastern slopes of Ben Lomond. Although both these settlements must have been abandoned a century or more ago, the houses, which were cruck-framed,2 are fairly well preserved and are of the “long house” type – dwelling accommodation, byre and other farm-buildings being combined under the same roof. They measure up to about 100 ft. in length. The outlines of the associated areas of cultivated ground are still clearly discernible at Big Bruach-Caoruinn, and it is interesting to find that each community possessed its own corn-drying kiln.’ After those surveys were made in the 1950s,3 both sites suffered afforestation; trees were planted very close to the buildings and no respect was shown for the associated enclosures and other landscape features. It has also become apparent since then that remains of this kind – the longhouses that were the typical dwellings of pre-Improvement farmers throughout mainland Scotland,4 and the corn-drying kilns associated with them – are not just interesting, but also needful of protection, conservation and study.
Of the other four sites listed in the Inventory, three: Old Farms, Comer (No. 375, surveyed 1955; NN 387045), Old Farms, Loch Dubh (No. 376, surveyed 1955; NN 403035), and Old Farms, Glen Dubh (No. 378, surveyed 1959; NN 4201), were less well preserved and not described at length.5 Only the Cruck-framed Byre at Stronmacnair (No. 377, surveyed 1956; NN 424025),6 warranted detailed description and illustration, and images of it are listed in Canmore.7 Although the Bruach-Caoruinn buildings and their associated enclosures and tracks were described as well preserved when surveyed in the 1950s, that is no longer an accurate description of Big Bruach-Caoruinn. The main casualties have been the enclosures and tracks, but the buildings have also suffered. The site was studied in 2016 following timber harvesting, and before and during the construction of a hydroelectric scheme. That installation appears to have done a little further damage to these features, but the course of a pipeline was changed in order to avoid some historic features.
When the author first visited Little Bruach-Caoruinn in autumn 2017, the buildings appeared to have survived quite well for over 60 years, having been protected from weather damage by the trees surrounding them, and there having been no recent forestry operations. However, felling was imminent at that time and there were concerns for the site’s welfare, as mature trees stood very close to the buildings (fig.1), and the associated landscape features had trees within them. At Big Bruach-Caoruinn earlier forestry operations had done much damage to the tracks and dykes, but it was hoped that at Little Bruach-Caoruinn any such surviving features might be retained. Therefore Loch Ard Local History Group – which has taken a keen interest in the sites – and SVBWG contacted Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS – now Forestry and Land Scotland), stressing the importance of the site and requesting that it be protected during felling and extraction. It was emphasized that it was not just the buildings, but also the associated structures that were important, so that all surviving evidence of the layout, and therefore the operation, of the whole of each site could be inferred. The corn-drying kiln at Little Bruach-Caoruinn was also surrounded by trees, and vulnerable to harvesting operations. Given that the buildings were perched on the tops of slopes, it was recognized that there would be difficulties of access, and that it would be a challenge to harvest the timber in ways that preserved as much as possible of their features. It is pleasing to report that FCS was well aware of the site’s value, having already undertaken archaeological and documentary surveys,8 and so respected these requests for protection. After felling, members of Loch Ard Local History Group removed forest litter and moss from the walls. The main purpose of this article is to describe the state of the site after harvesting, in comparison with its condition as recorded in the 1950s.
Geography and site
The north-western area of Stirlingshire is shown in fig.2. It is hilly country, with the lowest part of Big Bruach-Caoruinn lying at NN 418007 beside the Bruach Caoruinn Burn at 450 ft OD. About a quarter of a mile (390 m) away to the south-east, where the Duchray is at 420 ft OD, Little Bruach-Caoruinn lies at NN 421006 on the left (NW) bank of a small burn that joins the Duchray Water 270 yards downstream from where the Bruach Caoruinn Burn flows into it. The buildings stand on a shelf that slopes south-east towards a strip of wet ground, beyond which runs the burn. The settlement comprises three houses arranged in a wavy line along the contour of the shelf, accompanied by outbuildings, enclosures (fig.3) and, at some distance, a corn-drying kiln.9
The ages of the buildings and other features at the Bruach-Caoruinn are not known, but the Inventory compared Big Bruach-Caoruinn with Comer (No. 375, mentioned above)10, which was the home of Gregor McGregor – Rob Roy McGregor’s father-in-law – and suggested that some of these buildings may be at least as old as the late 17th century. Rob Roy married Mary McGregor at Corriearklet on the north shore of Loch Arklet in 1693. On the opposite (south) shore of the loch, 4.8 km (3 miles) to the north of Comer, is Old House, Corheichan (so spelled in the Inventory; No. 372; NN 377086, surveyed 1959) – this was then the home of Rob Roy’s uncle, Alistair McGregor, but the Inventory considered it uncertain that the ruin dated from that time.11 Even if the standing walls at Big Bruach-Caoruinn are conservatively assigned to the 18th century, there is evidence at that site of earlier buildings, perhaps from an earlier settlement;12 The three buildings at Little Bruach-Caoruinn do not appear to have been built at the same time as each other, nor by the same hands. However, given the documentary evidence outlined below, it is clear that the sites were occupied from at least the mid-sixteenth century, and it is also likely that as the sites evolved some rebuilds occupied the footprints of earlier buildings.
The earliest discovered mentions of the two Bruach-Caoruinn sites are in a sasine of 1540 and a charter of 1590, both of which use the wording: ‘the temple lands of Little Vercuill, Stronmacnair, the two Brathurns [or Brachurns, in 1590] & Clochvraick’.13 Temple lands belonged to the Knights Templar or, after their suppression in the early 14th century, to the Knights Hospitaller, and such endowments provided them with income.14
They continued to be referred to as Bracharne/Bracherne/Bracherin/Brachernis/Brachurn, with or without the qualification ‘two’, in various legal documents until the mid-seventeenth century,15 after which we find them frequently being distinguished as Easter and Wester Brachurn,16 and then in the mid-eighteenth century the distinction became Brachernmore and Brachernbeg.17 The last documented inhabitants were agricultural labourer Alexander McLaren and his wife Isabella, both aged 40 years and from Balquhidder, and their daughter and son of 15 and 10 years, and Mary McFarlane, aged 45 and of independent means; they are listed at Brachorn [sic] in the census of 1841, but we do not know which of the two sites it was – perhaps both?18
The two settlements are marked as Bra cheurin on Pont’s late 16th-century map,19 as Braechurnmor and Braechurnbeg on Roy’s mid-18th century Military Survey,20 and as Bruacheurnmore and Bruacheurn on Grassom’s map of 1817.22 Both sites, marked as Big Bruach-Caoruinn and Little Bruach-Caoruinn, are shown as ruined in the first edition Ordnance Survey map of the 1860s.22
The buildings were constructed from random rubble bonded with mud – a method used over a long period. That approach might appear to fit comfortably between the earlier technique of building with turf on boulder footings, and the later development of constructing entirely with stone bonded with lime mortar. However, there was considerable chronological overlap between the methods according to the tenants’ means and access to materials, the lengths of tacks (leases) and so incentives to build well, and the proprietors’ generosities. Mud bonding is no longer evident at any of the buildings – it has largely weathered out, and light can be seen through the walls in many places. It was noted in the Inventory that no evidence as to the position of the fire was found in any of the houses, suggesting the use either of a central hearth with a smoke hole in the roof or, more probably, of a chimney hood of wood and clay fixed against the inside of each gable.23 The RCAHMS descriptions of the site and its three buildings followed a survey dated 18th May 1955, and a redrawing of the figure accompanying those descriptions is given in fig.4. Those Inventory descriptions are briefly summarized below, immediately followed by observations made during visits in 2019 and 2020.
House A is the best preserved of the group, and possibly the most recent as its walls are thinner than those of the other buildings. The sidewalls are slightly battered, the wall-head is about 7 ft high, and the gable ends stand intact and are 11 ft high. The S wall shows a splayed window and a doorway, with traces of what may have been a second doorway and a gap that may represent a third. Stones project from the wall-faces at certain points, no doubt for attachment of ropes to retain the thatch; the E gable also has two flat, projecting members at a higher level, probably for riding the ropes clear of the wall-face. Internal arrangements are uncertain, but there was probably a dwelling house at the E end and a byre, of smaller size, at the W end. The presence of two doors in the E. portion suggests that it may have been subdivided; two cruck recesses in this part are well preserved. Earth-fast stones abutting the E gable may be the foundations of a small outhouse.
This house was still seen to be the best preserved when visited between 2017 and 2020 (figs 5 and 6), with its gables standing high (fig.7), but there has apparently been 80 cm loss of height to the south-western one since 1955. Although the survey stated that the wall-head is about 7 ft high, this is misleading – it stands about that high (2.3 m, fig.7 spot height c) only at the eastern corner of the building, against the north-east gable, where the ground falls and necessitates deeper wall footings. That is how it appeared in 1955; fig.8 shows no appreciable changes in comparison with a photograph taken in 1955 from the same viewpoint.24 The external dimensions are 22.5 m by 5.1 m. The RCAHMS survey noted that the walls of A are the thinnest of the three buildings, but recent measurement showed the southwest gable to be 100 cm thick. Inside this gable, at the southern corner of the building, there is a small enclosure created by a low (up to 1 m), very roughly built wall 30 cm thick. The front (south-east) wall of the house remains much as described in 1955; reading from the east corner: ‘a splayed window and a doorway, with traces of what may have been a second doorway and a gap that may represent a third’. However, the second doorway appears to have been filled in and part of the wall to its south-west has apparently been roughly rebuilt; beyond that, the wall has largely collapsed. One stone that was probably associated with thatching rope projects from the south-west gable at a height of 2.4 m, and three project from the north-east gable – two are 2.6 m above the ground, and the third is 50 cm above the south-eastern one (figs 7 and 9). Another stone projects from the back (north-west) wall, at 90 cm above the ground level and 8.5 m along from the western corner of the building. One of the two cruck recesses noted in 1955 is still well preserved (figs 5, 6 and 7), but elsewhere in the building wall collapse often appears to coincide with the probable positions of cruck slots (fig.7), and the building probably had six couples overall. Rather fewer than half of the earth-fast stones abutting the north-eastern gable are still visible – only those towards the east.
House B, the central one of the group, is larger than its neighbours and is somewhat irregular in shape. The walls are built with mud mortar, and the lateral ones are battered. The building is divided into three compartments, and the easternmost two appear to have comprised a dwelling house, with a central entrance flanked by splayed windows, while the W one, which has a separate entrance, was presumably the byre. The E partition, which subdivides the dwelling house, probably had a doorway near its S end for internal communication; the W partition is built along the line of a cruck frame and probably never rose to the full height of the roof (fig.4).
This house is in the poorest condition of the three (fig.10). It was apparently not built to the same standard as houses A and C – there is much tumbling of stone, but few complete losses of the masonry to ground level. It might be inferred from the 1955 plan that the walls were in considerably better condition then (indeed better than those of houses A and C) than they are now, but as the Inventory description made no mention of wall or gable heights we cannot be certain. Neither gable still stands, but it is most unlikely that the building had a hipped roof as there are no signs of a slot for a hip-end cruck in the best-preserved (eastern) gable end, and there is much fallen stone beneath the gable. It certainly is the most irregularly shaped of the three buildings, perhaps on account of the lie of the land, and its eastern end has the thickest walls (fig.7); this end of the building may be earlier than the western end, or at least have the earliest footings. Alternatively, it might be a later building that was squeezed into a difficult space – its south-west corner is only a short distance (1.5 m) from the north-east gable of House C. The external dimensions are 27.7 m on the north side and 26.5 m on the south, by 5.6 m at the west end and 6.7 at the east. The sidewalls are more battered than those of the other two houses. The Inventory identified the eastern end as the dwelling house, with a central entrance flanked by windows, but now only the position of the western window is identifiable from its flat sill. Working westwards along this front (southern) wall the presumed byre entrance seen in 1955 is now only identifiable by a single rybat at ground level. Of the western gable, more than half has fallen away on the southern side. Within the building, the two partitions noted in 1955 are still evident, although only as traces for the most part. The eastern partition, with the doorway at its southern end, was 50 cm thick and bonded into the northern wall, whereas the western partition built along the line of a cruck frame was 100 cm thick and not bonded to the sidewalls. The building probably had five couples overall, and two cruck slots are still to be seen (fig.11).
House C is the smallest of the three houses. It differs in plan from the other buildings in having two doors set opposite to one another in its long sides. The positions of internal partitions that may have existed cannot now be determined. The N gable is intact, and stands 10 ft high, with the wall-head at 5 ft 6 in. The masonry of the gable and the surviving parts of the sidewalls is of high quality; the gable is excellently bonded and pinned, and has a perfectly uniform surface. High on the outer face of the gable two stone thatch pegs are symmetrically placed and above them, 1 ft below the apex, there are two projecting members similar to those on House A. There were evidently four pairs of crucks, and the cruck recesses that remain are very well preserved (fig.4).
This house is a little irregular, being in the form of a parallelogram. The external dimensions are 19.5 m by 5.6 m wide at the south-west end and 5 m at the north-east, though wider with heavy footings at the gable ends. Although the Inventory stated that the positions of internal partitions that may have existed could no longer be determined, the 1955 plan outlined a cross wall with a central opening to the south-western side of the opposing doorways (fig.4). These doorways remain in good condition (fig.12), and the stones of the cross wall appear to have been robbed in order to build a low, rough wall curving from the south-western side of the north-western doorway towards the north-eastern side of the opposing doorway (fig.7). The north-eastern gable now stands only to 7 ft 6 in (2.3 m), not 10 ft, and the two thatch pegs are 4 in (100 cm) below the apex. The wall-heads rise to 5 ft (1.5 m) rather than 5 ft 6 in; however, they meet the gable neatly and do not seem to have lost any of their top courses. The discrepancy between the 1955 and 2020 measurements might be accounted for by 65 years’ accumulation of litter on the forest floor, and is probably not significant. Certainly, the masonry of this gable and its sidewalls is of outstanding quality (fig.13) and it is a testament to the skill of the builders of houses A and C that gables and parts of sidewalls still stand, now that they are essentially dry-stone walls given that their mud bonding is no longer evident. The south-west gable has collapsed in its centre, yet this wall is thicker than the other walls, and this end of the building is in poorer condition than the north-eastern one. It was also stated in the Inventory that there were four pairs of crucks and that the remaining recesses were well preserved; the number of such surviving slots was not given, however, and now only one can be seen. As with House A, wall collapse often appears to have occurred around cruck slots.
Outbuildings and enclosures (fig.4) The SE fronts of the houses are flanked by a platform, about 12 ft wide, which has been built up with dry-stone masonry in places. Below it, the ground slopes gently towards the burn. The upper part of the slope is bounded at each end by turf dykes, and a boundary dyke that runs roughly parallel to the platform, and 30 to 50 ft distant from it, connects the lower ends of the two turf dykes. Working from SW to NE a roadway into the site passes through a well-defined entrance in the first turf dyke, which is 3 ft high and 4 ft wide, and begins at the SE corner of House C, but the roadway fades out once past a second dyke that comes down from the NE corner of the house. These dykes form an enclosure in front of House C, and there is a small platform to the N of that enclosure, with a hollow path leading up to it on its N side; N of that there is a small scooped-out enclosure which probably had a roof borne on posts, as two circular stones, suggestive of post-bases, flank its entrance. Another path leads up to the SW end of House A and round the back. At the NE end of the enclosed area, SE of House A, there is a plot enclosed by turf dyke on three sides and on its fourth by the platform in front of the house. North of House B there lies a large enclosure of which the house itself forms the S side; the other sides are formed by dykes of mixed stone and turf about 3 ft high, with ditches 4 ft wide outside them. A good deal of ground higher up the slope behind the houses has evidently been more or less improved and partially cleared of boulders.
Few of these features could be seen in 2020 owing to damage by forestry, and most of those that were discernible were only identifiable with the aid of the 1955 survey’s plan. The platform and scooped-out enclosure to the south-west of House B can be made out, and a little of the dry-stone masonry supporting the 12 ft-wide platform in front of this house can be seen, as well as the platform before House A. The line of the track into the site from the southwest can also just about be recognized, but all of the other features in front of the houses – the paths, boundary dyke, other dykes and enclosures – have been lost. The large enclosure to the north of House B is well preserved, with the stone and turf dyke surviving to its full length. It is up to 1.5 m across at its base, and it stands to its highest of 80 cm at its northern corner. The ditch is visible along the south-west side of the dyke (fig.14), less so to the north-east, and not visible around the remainder of the enclosure. The ground higher up the slope was too disturbed and covered by forestry debris to warrant exploration.
It is clear that the buildings at Big and Little Bruach-Caoruinn are not just interesting – as the RCAHMS Inventory declared – but now very rare and important. It is satisfying to see the buildings freed from their surrounding trees, which looked like prison bars in some of the pre-felling images (fig.1), and gratifying that great care was taken to protect them during harvesting. The question now is – how well will the ruins fare, having been set at liberty from the protection that the trees provided and so fully exposed to the weather again.
I am especially grateful to James Kennedy of the Loch Ard Local History Group, for introducing me to the sites, showing me the tortuous route to them by forestry tracks, and assistance with making measurements. I also wish to thank Joyce Kelly and other members of the Group for welcoming me on a site visit in 2019, and to Shirley Leek and John Hair of Forestry and Land Scotland for facilitating that visit.
1 RCAHMS, Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Stirlingshire, Vol, I, HMSO, Edinburgh, 1963, p. 49.
2 G P Stell, Crucks in Scotland: a provisional list, In N W Alcock, ed, Cruck Construction… An Introduction and Catalogue, Council for British Archaeology, Research Report 42, London, 1981, pp 82-86.1981. See also, P Dixon, Crucks in Scotland – a review, In N W Alcock, P S Barnwell, M Cherry, eds, Cruck Building: a Survey, Shaun Tyas, Donington, 2019, pp 300-322.
3 RCAHMS, Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Stirlingshire, Vol. II, HMSO, Edinburgh, 1963, pp 389-392.
4 N A Logan, Wester Acredyke, Reconsidered, Vernacular Building, Vol.36, 2013, pp 81-96; Wretched Huts and Despicable Hovels – the pre-improvement farmhouse in the western Lowlands of Scotland, Vernacular Building, Vol.40, 2017, pp 45-66.
5 RCAHMS Vol II, loc. cit., pp 388-389.
6 ibid., p. 389.
7 www.canmore.org.uk, Stronmacnair, ST 642, ST 643, ST 435/1 PO, ST 435/2, ST 436, STD 126/1.
8 M Stewart, A documentary history of the lands of Brachern, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Stirlingshire, Forestry Commission Scotland, 2018, 23 pp; M Ritchie, Bruach Caoruinn – archaeological measured survey and historical archive investigation, Forest Enterprise Scotland, 2018, 4 pp. Unfortunately, reports appearing in the popular media were more interested in possible illicit distilling at the site – for which there is no evidence whatsoever – than with the buildings themselves.
9 This is the subject of a separate contribution – N A Logan, The corn-drying kiln at Little Bruach-Caoruinn – ‘like a huge tobacco pipe’, Vernacular Building (forthcoming).
10 RCAHMS, Vol II, loc. cit. pp 388-389.
11 ibid., pp 387-388.
12 ibid., pp 389-391.
13 National Records of Scotland (NRS) GD220/1/E/2/7/1; GD220/1/E/2/7/3.
14 D Jones, The Templars, Head of Zeus, London, 2018, pp 68-69, 394.
15 NRS GD220/1/E/2/7/5; GD220/1/E/2/7/9; GD220/6/E/148.
16 NRS GD220/1/E/2/7/11; GD220/1/E/3/1/1; GD220/1/E/3/1/3; GD220/1/E/3/1/6; GD220/1/E/3/2/5; GD220/1/L/1/5/3.
17 NRS GD220/6/70, pp 42-43, 76, 100.
18 NRS 474/4/1, Census 1841, Buchanan parish; 331/30/56 Balqhuidder Old Parish Records (OPR); 331/30/13 Balquhidder OPR.
19 T Pont, Loch Lomond – Pont 17, 1583-1596.
20 W Roy, Military Survey of Scotland, 1747-1755.
21 J Grassom, County of Stirling, 1817.
22 Ordnance Survey, 6” 1st Edition, Stirlingshire, Sheet V1, 1864-1866.
23 RCAHMS Vol II, loc. cit., p. 392.
24 RCAHMS Vol II, loc. cit., plate 206 A.
1 House A viewed from the south in 2017, prior to harvesting.
2 Part of north-west Stirlingshire, showing the location of the Big and Little Bruach-Caoruinn and other sites mentioned in the text.
3 The site of Little Bruach-Caoruinn in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, seen from the south-east in 2020. The buildings from left to right are houses C, B and A.
4 A copy of the Little Bruach-Caoruinn site plan of 1955.
5 The eastern corner of House A, viewed from the west in 2017 prior to harvesting, showing the window and doorway, with a cruck slot between them.
6 A similar view to that seen in figure 5, photographed in 2020 after harvesting.
7 Plans of the three Little Bruach-Caoruinn houses, showing dimensions recorded in 2020. Bold lines indicate stretches of wall that stand to appreciable heights; faint lines mark where walls have collapsed completely or only to one side; figures beside the walls indicate the wall thicknesses in centimetres at those points; the spot heights are the heights of the walls where marked; dashed, single straight lines show the positions of cruck couples as indicated by cruck slots; dotted straight lines indicate the conjectural positions of couples where cruck slots are lost.
8 House A viewed from the south-west. The mound with the tree leaning over it, seen just left of centre in the distance in front of the forest, contains the corn-drying kiln.
9 Stones, probably associated with thatching, projecting from the north-east gable of House A.
10 House B seen from the west, showing its poor condition. The two gables seen at left in the distance belong to House A.
11 A cruck slot in House B.
12 The opposing doorways of House C, viewed from the west, showing the low, rough wall curving from the right foreground towards the left middle ground. A cruck slot is seen in the wall at top left.
13 The north-east gable and sidewalls of House C viewed from the south-west, with the opposing doorways seen in the foreground.
14 The stone and turf dyke of the large enclosure lying north-west of House B with the ditch showing to its left, seen from the south.