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28 Aug 2018

Culloden heather used to thatch Leanach Cottage

Marion and Neil of Hebridean Thatching Services at Culloden
Marion and Neil of Hebridean Thatching Services at Culloden
Heather collected from Culloden Moor is being used to re-thatch Leanach Cottage on the historic battlefield.

Purple-flowering heather, collected fresh from Culloden Moor, is being used by expert Hebridean thatcher Neil Nicholson and his apprenticeship partner Marion to re-thatch the roof at Leanach Cottage.

The thatching is part of the Trust’s ongoing conservation project at Leanach Cottage before it re-opens to visitors later in the year.

‘We feel really proud to be working here,’ says Neil, who has been a thatcher for 23 years and is enjoying working on this Conservation in Action project at one of Scotland’s most important heritage sites.

Their work is generating lots of interest from visitors who are taking the opportunity to talk to the experts as they carry out this specialised task that will protect the historic cottage for years to come. ‘We’re getting lots of questions from visitors,’ adds Marion, ‘such as “how long will it last?” and “What are you thatching the roof with?”’

Fellow Hebridean Thatching Services team member and heather cutter Archie Campbell is supplying Neil and Marion with the material to replace the 1.5 feet of heather which used to cover the cottage. ‘We use whatever is growing locally,’ explains Neil. ‘Heather was on it before, with reed beneath for waterproofing. We need a good-size heather – the longer the better. Archie’s getting the best stuff.’

Stones will be used to weigh down the rabbit netting, which will eventually cover the thatch and help it settle down. This conservation work is being done with grant aid from Historic Environment Scotland, and each phase and material being used is historically authentic. For example, hazel spears are used to fix the thatch to the supporting roof beams underneath.

Raoul Curtis-Machin, Operations Manager at Culloden inspects the work so far.
Raoul Curtis-Machin, Operations Manager at Culloden inspects the work so far.

Raoul Curtis-Machin, Operations Manager at Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre says: ‘Here at the National Trust for Scotland we are working towards a vision where Scotland’s heritage is valued by everyone and protected for future generations. This is a good example of our charity’s vision in action.’ Raoul continues: ‘The work on Leanach Cottage, which was occupied until 1912, is scheduled to finish at the start of September, when the heather’s purple colour will begin to fade. This very special cottage is the only building remaining on the battlefield from the time of the conflict. Government forces burned down the barns associated with the cottage when wounded Jacobite soldiers were found hiding there.’

Raoul adds: ‘Our many visitors from both the UK and overseas are so interested in Leanach Cottage and we are looking forward to opening the doors once again and allowing people to experience this part of the Culloden story.’

The work at Leanach Cottage is part of the National Trust for Scotland’s programme to invest almost £60 million over the next five years.

Leanach Cottage is one of the last remaining intact buildings dating from the time of the battle.
Leanach Cottage is one of the last remaining intact buildings dating from the time of the battle.