Folktales: Crannogs and The Crannog – Monsters in the Landscape

Crannog islands on the Lake of Menteith by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (
The crannog islands on the Lake of Menteith

In my book, The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle, there is a great monster, kept in an enchanted sleep in a cavern under Edinburgh. The creature is called a Crannog. A crannog is not really a monster at all, but when I heard the word, it leapt into my imagination and was too good to let go.

A crannog is in fact, a man-made island. These sorts of islands are found throughout Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, usually built in estuaries or lochs. Recent evidence shows that some of these crannogs are older even than Stonehenge, some dating back 5,300 years. Crannogs varied in their construction. Some were originally timber-built roundhouses, supported on piles or stilts driven into the loch bed. You can see a reconstruction of one like this at the Scottish Crannog Centre in Perthshire. Take a look at their website here: In other places, big rocks were piled onto the loch bed to make an island on which a stone house was built. Nowadays crannogs look like tree-covered islands or are stony mounds hidden under the water.

There is still lots that archaeologists don’t fully understand about crannogs, such as, why they were built or what they were used for. They look like they might be dwellings, but divers in Loch Arnish found Neolithic pottery in the water around the crannog there, suggesting that crannogs might have been special places where perhaps, people made offerings, or used sacred vessels that couldn’t be brought back with with them for some particular purpose. It’s all a bit of a mystery and we’ll probably never know for definite. 

When I visited Inchmahome, the crannog island in the middle of the Lake of Menteith in Stirlingshire, I couldn’t get over how odd it looked: a funny rocky outcrop in the middle of the water, with trees poking up all over it. It reminded me of a drawing in a book I’d seen, where a shipwrecked sailor is sitting on a desert island, unaware that he is actually sat on top of a sea monster’s head, the rest of the monster under the water. And then my imagination started to whirr and spin… What if the crannogs weren’t man-made islands, but something else? Perhaps the remains of some long dead creature – a huge and ancient creature? And maybe, gradually, over time, soil had started to gather on the hump of the creature’s rotting back, and then trees and plants began to grow? Perhaps the base of the island wasn’t rocks like the real crannogs, but bones – the monster’s skeleton? And maybe, at the very dawn of time, there were many creatures like this, their remains now dotted in lochs and estuaries all over Scotland, Wales and Ireland??? And slowly, in my imagination, the crannog island became a Crannog monster, the last of its kind, asleep under Edinburgh!

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