Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Author Vonda Sinclair on Scottish Crofts and Cottages

Today on History Undressed, I'd like to introduce you to a new special guest author, Vonda Sinclair, whom I've known for several years. She travels yearly to Scotland, and writes amazing Scottish historical romances. Today she is bringing us some of the knowledge she's come across over the years on Scottish cottages and crofts. I'm very excited about this post! I've always been fascinated with cottages and she has shared some fantastic pictures she took while visiting Scotland.

Scottish Crofts and Cottages with Vonda Sinclair

Cottage at Culloden Battlefield
When I began writing My Fierce Highlander, a historical romance which takes place in the Highlands of Scotland in 1618, I realized I needed to know more details about the cottage the English heroine had lived in for more than three years.


I was fortunate to get to visit the Museum of Island Life on Isle of Skye and also the thatched cottage on Culloden Battlefield which served as a primitive hospital during the battle.

These homes as seen today are primarily reconstructions of nineteenth century homes, or perhaps they were altered over the years. They have windows and higher walls, as well as fireplaces.

Cottage at Culloden Battlefield

Originally, most Highland homes had very low walls, no fireplace, no windows, and only one door. The builders would've used whatever stones were locally available that they could transport. If they had access to fewer suitable stones, then the walls would've been lower. They "cemented" these together with mud and sand, but sometimes they were dry-stacked. The walls were about three feet thick, or sometimes more, especially on the islands. If the rock walls were low, sometimes sod was used to create the rest of the wall height. Neighbors and communities pitched in to help build houses because it would've been a huge job to transport all those stones.

The roof was a more important and valuable aspect of the homes because they required timber framing, and wood was scarce in the Highlands because of so few trees. On the islands or near the coast, people would pull in the wood from ship wrecks that washed up on shore and use that for framing the roof. When they moved, they would often take the timber framing of the roof with them because it would've been very expensive (or perhaps impossible) to replace this without resources. It was reported by Buchanan in the late eighteenth century that in the Hebrides the resident owned the roof timbers, which he provided himself, but the tacksman or laird owned the stone walls.

On the islands, hip roofs were common, rather than roofs with gable ends, which helped the cottage withstand the strong winds common on the islands or coast. On the Mainland, gable ends were seen more often.

To make a roof, the builders created an A frame with large timbers, with smaller pieces of wood between to secure them together. These frames were raised into place and covered with branches and sod, and then finally thatch, which was usually locally available reeds, rushes, heath, or grasses.

Thatch roof
The floors would've been dirt with a fire pit in the center of the floor. An offset opening in the roof allowed some of the smoke to escape. Still, it would've been a very smoky home. Dried peat was burned and the fire was kept going all the time. The people who lived there would've sat around the fire pit on low stools. This was the center of the home and all the cooking was done here.

Inside a cottage at Culloden Battlefield

The cottages were generally one room, but partitions of wattle and clay were installed to create one or two separate "rooms." Box beds were used to sleep in and families would've slept closely together for warmth, especially in winter. The box beds had either a curtain or doors they could close to keep in the warmth or perhaps for privacy. The mattresses were stuffed with straw. Blankets were handmade and woven of wool. Other cloth items were made of locally grown flax and the linen woven by hand.


A separate room or section of the home was for the livestock, especially cattle, to stay in winter. This section was lower than the rest of the cottage to allow for the drainage of waste. It was so cold, keeping the cattle indoors all winter was the only way they could survive. Often there was not enough food for either the people or the cattle, and in spring the cattle were so weak they had to be carried outside so they could start eating again.



Vonda Sinclair’s favorite indulgent pastime is exploring Scotland, from Edinburgh to the untamed and windblown north coast. She also enjoys creating hot, Highland heroes and spirited lasses to drive them mad. She is a past Golden Heart finalist and Laurie award winner. She lives with her amazing and supportive husband in the mountains of North Carolina where she is no doubt creating another Scottish story. Please visit her website to learn more.  http://www.vondasinclair.com/

My Fierce Highlander
By Vonda Sinclair

Gwyneth Carswell, an English lady banished by her father to the harsh Scottish Highlands, wants nothing more than to take her young son away from the violence of two fighting clans--her own distant kin, the MacIrwins, and their enemies, the MacGraths. She risks everything to rescue the fierce MacGrath warrior from the battlefield where he’s left for dead by her clan. She only knows she is inexplicably drawn to him and he wants peace as she does. When her clan learns of her betrayal, they seek
vengeance. Dare she trust the enemy more than her own family?

Laird Alasdair MacGrath is driven to end two-hundred years of feuding with the MacIrwins. But by taking in and protecting Lady Gwyneth and her son, he provokes more attacks from his mortal enemy. As the danger and conflict surrounding them escalate, Alasdair and Gwyneth discover an explosive passion neither of them expected. With the arrival of a powerful man from her past, a horrible decision confronts her--give up her son or the man she loves.

My Fierce Highlander ©2011, Vonda Sinclair

Breathing hard, Gwyneth burst through the door, the bitter scent of peat smoke and tangy drying herbs replacing that of fresh air. “Mora, did you hear the battle?”

“Aye, I reckon they were fighting the MacGrath. ’Tis always a blood feud betwixt them.” Her friend and fellow healer bent over her knitting, her gray head wrapped in a white kerch. The fire smoldering in the center of the room provided little light.

“One man still lives. He’s been knocked out, but his breathing is strong. We must bring him here and see to his injuries.”

“Who is he?” Suspicion laced through Mora’s thick brogue.

“I know not.”

“One of the enemy?”


“Mmph. I won’t be helping the MacGraths.”

“A dozen men are dead. For what purpose? All this fighting is madness!”

“Easy for you to say, English. Lived here nigh on six years, you have, and still you ken naught of our Highland ways.”

She knew enough about their violent way of life and hated it. Gwyneth glanced at her five-year-old son sleeping in the box bed on the other side of the room and lowered her voice. “I would die before I’d let Rory become one of them, giving up his precious life over a senseless dispute.” She had to find a way to take him out of the Highlands before Laird Donald MacIrwin forced him into the ranks of his fighting men. “And you’re right, I cannot understand so much bloodshed over nothing.”

“’Tis not for naught. The MacGraths killed Donald’s brother ten years past. Then there was the time the MacGraths claimed a goodly portion of MacIrwin land. We don’t take the stealing of land lightly.”

How could her friend be so cold? “This man who yet lives is carrying a peace treaty. He wears a seal ring and appears to be the chief. Aside from that, he’s human and we’re healers. If I can save a life, I will, whether he is friend, foe or beast.”

“Aye, you with your gentle lady’s heart. You’ll get us killed. What if Donald finds out?”

A chill raced through her at that thought. “He rarely comes here.” Though the clan chief was her second cousin on her father’s side, no fondness existed between them.

“’Tis a bad feeling I have about this. You’ll regret it.”

“Do you not think the MacGraths will exact a severe revenge against us all if the MacIrwins kill their chief? He wants peace, as we do.”

“Well, this is not the way to go about it. I’ve been around a few years longer than you have, Sassenach.”

“I will drag the big brute up here myself, then.” She yanked a blanket off the bed, left the cottage and strode down the hill once again toward the glen. The stones slid and rolled beneath her slippers and bit into her feet. If Mora wouldn’t help her, she’d do what she could for the man.

Something all-consuming rose up from her soul and railed, refusing to allow him to lie there and die. Though his body looked powerful, he was helpless now. As helpless as a child, helpless as little Rory. All this man’s fearsomeness at her mercy, she was awed by the power she held over him, to help him reclaim his strength and his life…or let it drain away. That would be a sin far worse than any she’d ever committed, of which she had many. The peace treaty and something deep within her proclaimed his life was worth saving a hundred times over.

My Fierce Highlander by Vonda Sinclair available now in ebook from Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble


Victoria Roberts said...

Vonda, I love all things Scotland! This was a very educational post and thank you for sharing your photos. It was a harsh time and an even harsher land. I also enjoyed your excerpt.

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thanks so much, Victoria!! I'm with you on that (loving all things Scotland.) :) Realizing how tough their lives were makes it obvious why they had to be such tough survivors.

Gerri Bowen said...

Those photos are great, Vonda, almost like being there. What is a hip roof, other than not having a gable? Flat? Why was it called a hip roof?

Vonda Sinclair said...

Hi Gerri, thanks!! A hip roof is like the second picture down from the top. Also the 4th pic from the bottom. The roof sort of slopes at the ends or is slightly rounded. This helps with wind deflection. The roofs on Isle of Skye at the Museum of Island Life are like this. But the Culloden cottage, on the mainland and some distance from the sea, has gable ends (first picture).

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

We spent time at Culloden as well and I loved the thatched roofed cottage. Thanks for all of the beautiful photos and info on these homes. I guess they must have had to get along well to spend so much time confined in these small quarters.

Best of luck with lots of sales. Anyone who wants to take a great class, vonda gives a lot of information and a lot of support in her sexual education class.

Carol Burnside aka Annie Rayburn said...

Nice write-up on the cottages. This book is such a good read, Vonda. I know with that cover you designed, it will sell crazy numbers!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Paisley, thanks so much for checking it out!! I love those cottages!!

Carol, thanks!! I appreciate it so much!!

Anita Clenney said...

Oh, what lovely pictures. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us.

Pat McDermott said...

Vonda, I didn't realize the people owned their roof and took it with them when they moved. How interesting! And how great you get to do hands on research for something you clearly love so much. That just has to shine through in your writing!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you so much for visiting, sharing your immense knowledge and your amazing photos. I can't wait to read this book! It sounds wonderful! Congrats on the release!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Anita, thanks!! I'm so glad you enjoyed looking at them!! Wish we could all visit a Scottish cottage right now. LOL

Vonda Sinclair said...

Pat, owning only your own roof is a very interesting and unique idea. Leave it to the Scots to come up with it. LOL I do love researching and exploring Scotland more than almost anything. :) (Even with the cold winds.)

Vonda Sinclair said...

Eliza, thanks so much for letting me visit your incredible blog today!! It was truly an honor!!

Ashley Cockerill said...

Great croft photos, Vonda! Thank you so much. Cheers.

Gerri Bowen said...

Vonda, that photo fourth from bottom looks as if that side goes all the way to the ground. Made me wonder if part of the cottage was built into the hill.

Vonda Sinclair said...

Ashley, thanks for checking them out!!

Gerri, yes, you're right. That cottage is built into the hill. Around front, the stone walls were regular height.