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Cruck Framed Buildings


"...a fuming dunghill removed and fresh piled up again, and pretty near the same in colour, shape and size."

Edmund Burt, writing his Letters from a Highland Gentleman in the 1720s, had no time for the turf-walled thatched houses of the Highlands. Described variously as creel houses, black houses or coupled cottages, and taking different regional forms, the often-misrepresented vernacular buildings of the Scottish countryside shared one common element – the cruck.

Crucks, or couples as they were often called in Scotland, comprised pairs of curved timbers joined at the top to carry the enormous weight of the roof (built of timber, turf and thatch) directly to the ground, taking the strain off the side walls, which were often lightly-built affairs of turf or clay. Sometimes the builders were able to use single timbers, selected from the curved bough of a tree, though it was more common for several shorter lengths to be used, pinned together with wooden dowels. Sometimes other artefacts were recycled, such as the boat timbers seen at Ramscraigs in Caithness. From the late 1700s stone cottages became more common, with walls robust enough to support the roof, and cruck constructions became increasingly rare, though in parts of the country the tradition of incorporating crucks into stone walls persisted well into the 19th century.

As organic, biodegradable structures, cruck-framed buildings are prone to rapid deterioration once they fall out of use. Unfortunately for us this means a very important part of our heritage is rapidly disappearing. Over the past 50 years RCAHMS has recorded dozens of examples; some of these were subsequently demolished to make way for new development, but others have been restored, renovated and given new life. This gallery draws together the best of these records for the first time, allowing us to appreciate both the functional craftsmanship of the builders and the skills of the photographers and surveyors who bring them alive for us today.

Some cruck-framed buildings have been restored for further use as museums. If you want to visit an authentic example of a restored cruck-framed cottage the Glencoe Folk Museum is excellent. Others include Auchindrain Township Museum in Argyll, while the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore boasts several reconstructed examples.