The Big and Little Bruach Caoruinns- an introduction and overview by Professor Niall A. Logan, Chair of The Scottish Vernacular Working Group October 2017.
The Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Stirlingshire, Volume II (RCAHMS, 1963) devotes over 2300 words to these two sites, equally shared between them over nearly three pages, accompanied by a plate and two site plans. The Introduction to this work, in Volume I, states 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, 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-Caorruinn, and it is interesting to find that each community possessed its own corn-drying kiln.’
Since the time of that survey in 1959, it has become apparent that remains of this kind – the longhouses that were the typical dwellings of pre-Improvement farmers throughout mainland Scotland (Logan, 2013; 2017), and the corn-drying kilns associated with them – are not just interesting, but now also very rare and important. Both kinds of structure are not only rare in this locality, but right across the country. Indeed, as far back as 1956 the corn-drying kilns at Bruach-caoruinn were recognized as of archaeological importance (Feachem, 1956), and yet two of these once-common buildings were identified as cists or dwellings at the time of two 19th-century excavations! These two corn kilns are therefore of particular interest and importance, and they should not be overlooked at these sites, lying as they do at some distance from the other buildings. The one at Little Bruach-caoruinn remains easy to see in plan but less easy to interpret in elevation, and it was not surveyed in 1959 (but was in October 2017), while the one at Big Bruach-Caoruinn – which was surveyed then – is now much eroded at its upper level, but its south elevation is well seen, including the flue opening. These two rare examples are therefore complementary, and both need to be protected.
The ages of these settlements are not known, but archive sources – as yet unexamined by myself – may yield some clues. They are shown on Roy’s Military Survey of the 1750s and named as ‘Braechurnmor’ and ‘Braechurnbeg’; this location is also most probably the one marked on Pont’s late 16th-century manuscript map of the Loch Lomond area as ‘Bracheurn’. The present buildings are mainly constructed from random rubble bonded with mud. This technique was used over a long period; although it may be seen as typical of a constructions that lay between earlier buildings of turf on boulder footings, and later buildings of stone bonded with lime mortar, there was considerable chronological overlap between the methods according to the tenants’ means, the lengths of tacks (and so incentives to build well), and the proprietors’ generosity. The RCAHMS Inventory notes similarities between the older Bruach-caoruinn buildings and houses at Comer (No. 375), which was the home of Rob Roy’s father-in-law. That might place such houses in the late 17th century, at least.
Although the buildings and their associated enclosures and tracks were described as well preserved when surveyed, that is probably no longer an accurate description. Nonetheless, despite forestry operations at both sites, the buildings have survived surprisingly well over nearly 60 years. The main casualties have been the enclosures and tracks, particularly at Big Bruach-Caoruinn, and the recent installation of a hydroelectric scheme there appears to have done a little further damage to these features. The buildings at Little Bruach-Caoruinn appear to have been protected from weather damage by the forest trees surrounding them, and the fact that there has been no recent felling. However, this site is now very vulnerable to the forthcoming harvesting operations as the mature trees stand very close to the buildings, and the associated enclosure has trees within it. There may be difficulties of access, too, as the site is perched at the top of a slope. The corn-drying kiln at Little Bruach-Caoruinn is also surrounded by trees, and vulnerable to harvesting operations. It is emphasized that it is not just the buildings, but also the associated structures that are important, so that all surviving evidence of the layout – and so operation – of the whole of each site can be understood. At Big Bruach-Caoruinn earlier forestry operations have done much damage to the tracks and dykes, but at Little Bruach-Caoruinn much of this kind of evidence remains. It may be a challenge to harvest the timber in ways that preserve as much as possible of this evidence – especially the large enclosure to the north of the central building. It is my intention to return to the site post-felling in order to assess its condition and to carry out a new survey of the site.
Feachem, R. W. Castlehill Wood Dun, Stirlingshire, Appendix 1, Corn-Drying Kilns, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol. 90, 1956, pp 47-50.
Logan, N. A., 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.
RCAHMS Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Stirlingshire, Vols I & II, HMSO Edinburgh, 1963, pp 49, 388, 389-392.
Prof. Niall A. Logan, Chair, SVBWG October 2017