Laidhay Croft Museum longhouse
Laidhay Croft Museum longhouse

Standing directly beside the busy A9 a mile north of Dunbeath stands a picturesque 18th century thatched crofter's cottage. The cottage has been restored and illustrates the long history of this type of dwelling in northern Scotland. a few metres away from the main cottage is a free-standing thatched stone barn with a cruck roof.


Traditional crofter's cottages in Caithness were low stone structures, incorporating accommodation for both the crofting family and their animals with storage areas, workshops, and everything the family needed to live in this often harsh environment under one roof.

One end of the Laidhay cottage is a byre, or stable area, with stalls for animals and a cobbled floor. The centre section of the cottage is a combination living, eating and sleeping area for the family, with inner divisions created by high-walled box beds.

The cruck-roofed barn
The cruck-roofed barn

Thatched roof close-up of the barn
Thatched roof close-up of the barn

This main living area gives onto a smaller chamber for work activities, and then to a combination workshop and byre. This last area has a cobbled floor with a shallow channel running lengthwise to the end wall.

In the end wall is a hatch, which could be raised to shovel dung out of the cottage onto a midden heap outside. Within this area are workbenches with woodworking and blacksmith tools, all a necessary part of a crofting family's daily life.

To call the croft cottage a longhouse is no exaggeration; it is fully 105 feet in length. In its original configuration both the family and their animals entered through the same doorway, and there was no real internal division between living quarters for animals and humans.

Later a separate doorway was inserted for animals, and an inner wall added to completely separate the stable area from the living area for the crofting family. The large stable at the north end of the building was created in the early 20th century, and now houses a collection of horse harnesses and tack.

The living area hearth
The living area hearth

The living area for the family includes a kitchen, parlour, scullery, and sleeping area. This is such a delightful jumble, packed with a wonderful array of objects from daily life. Some objects will be obvious to a modern visitor, others will be a complete mystery. Luckily many are signposted and there is a very friendly attendant on hand to answer any questions.

Caithness Chairs

There are several examples of traditional Caithness chairs. These have a gap at the front of the seating area. The theory behind this odd-looking design is that timber was so scarce in Caithness that they didn't want to waste wood on a spot where no one put their weight if they were sitting upright properly! The wood shortage also explains why many of the chairs are made with driftwood gathered from the nearby beach.

A traditional hip bath
A traditional hip bath


I had a wonderful time visiting Laidhay. The interior of the longhouse is like Alladin's treasure cave, full to the rafters with a jumble of artefacts from daily life. Its like a time-capsule, looking into the life of a traditional crofting family. Visiting Laidhay really gives you a good sense of what it was like to live in Caithness, a way of life that changed little for centuries. Highly recommended.

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About Laidhay Croft Museum
Address: A9, Laidhay, Dunbeath, Caithness, Scotland, KW6 6EH
Attraction Type: Museum
Location: 1 mile north of Dunbeath on the east side of the A9 beside the tea rooms. Well signposted, and large free parking area.
Website: Laidhay Croft Museum
Location map
OS: ND171303
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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