This is Leanach
Farmhouse in Scotland built between 1721 and 1730 and completely
restored by the National Trust in 1960. Just a few years ago a
survey of the cottage was carried out by
Addyman Archaeology so that future conservation work is in
keeping with the original house and natural materials.
it's a tiny cottage, its walls show
ten phases of construction, the first of which was a single stone
Over the years the cottage has changed shape but
leaving signs of earlier construction like the single cruck frame
which survives embedded in the
western gable. The eastern gable is a heather turf wall
The roof may have
originally been thatched with straw using
a clay-thatching technique, but if you listen to the
conversation (right) you will hear that straw may have been too
valuable to be used for thatch.
Today the little cottage sports
a wavy haircut in the distinctive colours of heather. The
picture left shows the thatching in progress with bundles of
heather, ready for the roof, lying on the ground below the window.
If you listen to the conversation (right) you will hear the
speaker talking about the priest's heather thatch leaking. The
conversation then turns to bracken thatching.
Brandon Thatchers, a heather thatcher, says heather was once a
status symbol amongst the rush thatch cottages of small
communities and was often used for the priest's home.
This is a conversation
[currently unavailable] between locals of the
Isle of Uist, Scotland discussing the use of straw, heather and
bracken roots for thatching. The conversation is part of the
Archive of Building Skills. In the conversation they
talk about bracken root thatch lasting four generations but, "didn't
look very bonnie". Heather, they say was used for the eves
but not straw because it was too valuable as cattle feed.
Listen to the four minute conversation with Scottish accents
that break into
Gallic in parts.
Opens new window
Wind blows through heather so it must sit on two
layers of turf underlay. The heather is a first line of defence
shedding much, but not all of the rain. The heather stalk is tied
and stuck with clay (mud).
Amongst the types of thatching
material heather fares well lasting 20-30 years. The life of other
thatching materials are:
Rush 3-5 years
Bracken Root 5-10 years
Heather 20-30 years
Reed 30-50 years
The heather used for thatching needs to be 3-4 feet
in length. Heather of that length is found growing on the north
facing slopes of the highlands. To harvest the plant you must peel
the heather back from the direction it grows otherwise pulling it up is
Finding heather of this length is not so easy
because land owners burn the heather to keep it under control,
when heather was a natural harvest for thatch, burning may not
There are over 10 million acres (400,000+ ha) of heather in
Scotland. Other than thatch heather has many other uses that you may not
know about including
heather ale, baskets, brushes, pot scrubbers
Scottish heather broom maker, circa 1900
A note on...
Bracken thatch requires air to circulate from the home below. Even a
standard breathable membrane is not enough ventilation to prevent
the lower layers from rotting. When bracken is laid green the fronds weave themselves together
creating an interesting texture. Bracken thatched cottages are few
and far between but there is one at the
Folk Museum in Newtonmoor, Scotland and another at
The Roundhouse Project in Wales.
Here's an excerpt from 'Tales from the Green Valley'. Six
minutes into the video they start to use bracken for a thatch