Building the boat was an amazing experience….but we wanted to test it out! So we signed up for the Portsoy boat festival and precoded to have the time of our lives! For Katie and I the trip to Portsoy began with an epic mega bus trip from London to Aberdeen! for the bargain price of £1.50 each! From Aberdeen it was another bus ride followed by a taxi trip from a random village! To Portsoy, were we arrived in what was the middle of the night! As it was summer in Scotland we were far enough north to still have enough light to put up out little tent and get some down time before the festivities began!
The Portsoy boat festival is a celebration of traditional sea fairing and it was buzzing with excitement. The weather was fantastic with calm crystal clear waters in the harbour and a beautiful summer sun shining down on us. The boat had already been transported to the festival by Mark and his team from Archaeolink and we were ready to swing into action!
Archaeolink Neolithic boat moored in the harbour at Portsoy
Katie and I had also prepared for the event by painstakingly making some Neolithic style costumes to look the part!
Katie in her pig skin Neolithic costume! Well done Katie mine was made from some leather looking material from boyes!
We were also really lucky at the boat festival as we were joined by master coracle maker Dave Purvis who brought with him some spectacular modern and traditional coracles. And Kaite and I were straight on with our first lesson! Now paddling a coracle is a relatively easy thing, but there is a trick to it. Coracles are really stable as long as you don’t lean from side to side! Best to sit upright, paddle out the front in a figure of eight motion and only rock back and forth!
Getting the hang of it now!
Katie getting her first lesson from Dave
Modern coracles waiting to go out intot he harbour
Katie out in the saucer traditional coracle
Helen and Elenor taking the Coracle for a spin
Helen floating in the harbour in a modern coracle
After we’d mastered the coracles it was time to see if the large Neolithic boat that we spent all of Easter building could actually float! So we’re all loaded up, paddles in hand shoes off and headed out into the harbour! I’m pleased to say it did float and we made it round the harbour a few times! I’m not sure if we would have made it across the North sea or the Irish sea as we did have to have one sat in the back bailing out! One of the unexpected nice things about the cow skin of the boat is we took our shoes off to protect the boat and had a lovely fur carpet under our feat while sailing!
Off we go!
After our successful boat trip round and out of the harbour we managed to find ourselves some traditional Scottish smoked fish and sat by the side of the harbour in the sand enjoying a very sea side meal. One of the lovely things that came out of our trip to Portsoy was the enthusiasm for the coracles that was generated by seeing us take them out round the harbour. We soon had lots of families and children coming up to us and wanting to have a go at sailing them round the harbour. The kids really enjoyed it and it created a wonderful atmosphere. We had a ‘safety coracle’ out in the deeper water keeping an eye on people and making sure that no one left the safety of the harbour. A great time was had by all!
One of the best things about the festival was the relaxed atmosphere, traditional Scottish music floating over the port, still waters, beautiful weather, friendly people and free time on the water. It was lovely to feel close to nature and very close to how our ancestors would have travelled around the waters!
End of the festival after having a great time!
The first step to covering the boat was to get the basket out of the ground and tidy up its edges!
Pulling the boat slowly out of the graoun
Turning the boat over for the first time
Adding supporting beams and edges to the boat to give it strength
Adding a few seats for the rowers
Lifting the boat back onto stilts to be covered
Traditional boats were covered in animal skins that were applied white they were still wet, fresh from the body! they would then shrink during the drying process to create a hard water tight covering for the boat. The cow skins that we used were washed and cleaned prior to handing. How many cow skins does it take to cover a Neolithic boat?
The larger skins had to be sown together using traditional methods, but first the smaller skins had to be cut into strips so that the skins could be tied onto the boat.
Katie Marley cutting strips of cow hide
Katie Marley modeling some lovely cow hide strips
The next step was to stitch the large cow hides together to make enough to cover the whole boat.
Two cow hides being stitched together
Blanked stitch was the method of choice
And in some cases the hides were quite touch to get through! I can imagine Neolithic people needing some quite strong needled to get through it.
Now it wasn’t easy getting those cow hides to come together! We had at least one needle go through a finger! and a had to take turns getting the stitching done. At first the cow hides were also quite smelly (not in a bad way but smelt a bit like a butchers!). Luckily the smell clung to everything so you soon got used to it!
Now to cover the boat!
Skins going on the boat
Sewing up the last bits and pieces
Master coracle maker, Peter Falkner, myself, the lovely Katie and Ellen
Part three? what we did when it was finished!
It was approaching the 2006 Easter break and me and my fellow undergraduate friend, Katie Marley were about to set off on an epic adventure into the Scottish wilderness. Well to an archaeological prehistoric park at Oyne, Archaeolink! Our mission, to build a replica Neolithic boat to find out what it would have taken to make a boat that could have brought Neolithic farmers into Scotland.
Meet the team! Ellen, David, Peter Faulkner (master Coracle maker), Katie and me
The idea behind the project was to make a willow and hide boat that would have been big enough to carry cargo over to Scotland during the Neolithic. Although there is no direct evidence that Neolithic people would have used this type of boat, as it would only have survived in areas where there is exceptional organic preservation, we wanted to see if it could have been a possibility. Now apart from the wonderful Peter, the rest of us had no experience in making coracles! so it was a great learning experience for us! The first task was to trim the willow that would be used to make the boat.
Katie Marly getting to grips with trimming the willow
Helen Williams getting the hang of it!
Next job – making it pointy!
A coracle (which is what our boat was based on) is basically a very large basket covered in hide and sealed with tree sap and tar to make it water tight. The next step was then to weave the structure of the boat, basically into a very large basket!
The boat begins!
Pointy sticks in the ground!
Master Coracle maker who guided us through the whole process!
One to work….five to watch!
Masters at work!
The rest of us get stuck in!
Making the shape of the boat
Bending the stems over!
Looking a bit more boat like now
Making the bow
All hands to the pump to get those last thick willow stems to stay in place!
Ready for the skins!
View from inside the boat at dusk
Part two….covering the boat!
Its around about April every year when my thoughts turn to the tidal mud flats of the Severn Estuary and I begin to wait for Martin’s e-mail, with eager anticipation. This year was no exception and I wasn’t disappointed. So at the end of August I jumped into my Dads Astra which I had borrowed, and tootled down to the Severn Estuary excited to be once again doing ‘real’ on site archaeology. Now the Estuary is no shrinking violet and has been host to Time Team, Coast and The National Geographic and this excavation was no exception, as we had been asked to come down to help with a special program for the makers of Time Team.
Tide going out at the Severn Estuary
Martin Bell being interviewed
I got involved in the work at the Estuary during my MSc in Geoarchaeology at Reading University. When I arrived early on the Thursday morning the tide was still lapping against the sea wall but it wouldn’t be long until the Estuary would be revealing its secrets. One of the things I love about the estuary is the transient and alien nature of the landscape. The sand banks are constantly moving and the silts are frequently being eroded, creating a new sort of familiar landscape every visit. This year the sands had encroached further down the shore onto the mudflats creating unstable sinking sand testing our nerves! Luckily Martin Bell, the leader of our team, is a seasoned intertidal archaeologist who was able to assess which areas where safe for us.
This year’s dig focused on planning a series of newly exposed flint scatters and footprints. The most challenging and exciting element of tidal archaeology is the unusual working conditions, often wet and muddy, the atmosphere is one of long periods of waiting punctuated by flurries of activity as sites are exposed, recorded and vacated before the unforgiving tide reclaims them.
Archaeologist waiting for the tide to go out
This year I was at one of the furthest points out, accessible only through crossing, what had become affectionately known as ‘the waterfall’. A shallow bridge of silts which has formed between two basins, that has water cascading over it as the tide retreats. Not only is this area difficult to get to, but it is also exposed for a very short amount of time. Once again the tied raged in after only 30 minutes of exposure and we had to quickly wrap up our recording sheets (large sheets of plastic used for 1:1 tracings) and head back over the waterfall before being completely cut off.
Me doing some intertidal archaeology
My long suffering husband being coerced into doing some intertidal archaeology!
By the end of this year’s excavation I was thoroughly coated in estuary mud, both my wellys were full of water and I was excited about our next trip to the estuary. The last job of the day was to sign the release forms for the filming and claim our Time Team pound!
- Time team pound
- Time team car