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Crannog Centre rises from the ashes with glorious Midsummer Music festival

The Scottish Crannog Centre has risen from the ashes with a Midsummer Music spectacular just a week after a tragic fire burned down the famous structure.

When the Iron Age museum’s crannog reconstruction on Loch Tay caught fire on June 11, it seemed like the annual summer solstice celebration would be postponed for the second year in a row.

But thanks to the resilience of the team and an outpouring of community support, the centre was aglow with music, poetry and daring acrobatics just ten days later, on the longest day of the year.

Miriam Wolanski and James Turner (from Wolanski’s Pole & Aerial Fitness) perform. Pictures: Steve MacDougall / DCT Media

Mike Benson, director of the Scottish Crannog Centre, has been “humbled” by the way people have rallied round to help, with more than £47,000 raised online already.

“This fire is only part of our story,” he said. “It’s not the whole story.

“So alright, we’re not in the crannog. But we’ve still got the musicians, we’ve still got the staff here, we’ve still got this beautiful location. We’ve still got a story to tell.”

The fire at the Crannog Centre in Kenmore
The wooden structure of the crannog was destroyed on June 11.

The event featured folk musicians Neil Baillie and Munro Gauld, BBC Young Traditional Musician 2021 winner Michael Biggins and finalist Iona Fyfe, and aerial acrobatics performers from Grangemouth-based Wolanski’s Pole and Aerial Fitness.

Looking around at the turnout, Mike added: “We’ve just had incredible support. I’m humbled by it. I’m getting close to tears talking about it.”

Mike Benson, director of Scottish Crannog Centre, welcomes the Midsummer Music audience.

The close-knit team of staff is clearly to thank for the way the centre has bounced back. The crannog reconstruction may have been the main feature of the centre, but its destruction hasn’t dampened apprentice Izzy Hanby’s enthusiasm for her work.

“Here, we do tours. We used to do them on the crannog, but unfortunately that’s not there now,” she said matter-of-factly. “But we do tours of the technology museum, textile area, cooking area, trade area – and also puppet shows, which is the best bit!”

Wandering through the woodland paths from one (Covid-safe, socially distanced) stage to another, she added: “I’ve never been to this Midsummer Music event before, and it’s absolutely amazing.

“Every time I turn a corner and see someone doing something, my mouth is just wide open. It’s really immersive.”

In with the new

And although the centre is focused on ancient times, the Midsummer Music performances celebrated Scottish culture as it is now.

At the front of the centre, musicians Munro Gauld and Neil Baillie performed a haunting flute and cittern melody, setting the tone for a foray into the solstice celebration.

Then under a clump of trees just above the shoreline, Michael Biggins and Iona Fyfe took the stage. Playing 15-minute sets to a rotating audience, the pair (both 23) brought a youthful energy to a historic place.

Michael Biggins enjoying the unconventional stage.

Pianist Michael said: “It’s the first live gig we’ve done in 18 months, so it’s really nice to get out and play in front of people again.”

“It’s an unbelievably overwhelming experience to sing in front of a live audience again,” added Iona.

“You know, in the grand scheme of things, a gig is not important when a tragedy has happened,” she went on. “But we’re just really grateful. It’s amazing that this has gone ahead and that they’re supporting musicians.

“Think about all the people here that have been employed today, to come and sing and do acrobatics – it’s just nice! I want to cry, but I’m not going to cry, because my make-up’s going to run.”

Folk signer Iona Fyfe got her gladrags on for her first live gig since lockdown.

To the delight of die-hard festival fans, Iona performed tried and true folk favourites, like The Northern Lights Of Old Aberdeen and The Wild Geese. But standing out from her modest backdrop in a jewel-encrusted two-piece, and mixing in a Scots rendition of pop star Taylor Swift’s Love Story, she was every bit the 21st Century lass.

“It’s cool to mix things aboot,” she laughed, gesturing at her flashy outfit. “But think about it – folk singers have always had this image of, like, long flowing hair and floaty dresses, and they’re cutting about the forest.

“And I’d like to put forward the idea that a Scots singer, a folk singer, can be a contemporary woman. We’re not that floaty, angelic type – we’re flawed, we’re different, we’re modern.”

Cirque du solstice

Adding a sense of fairytale flair to the occasion was the circus-trick troupe from Wolanski’s Pole and Aerial Fitness.

Acrobats performed daring aerial hoop stunts in the loch, before leading audiences through a woodland trail to hear gorgeous nature-inspired poetry and take in a stunning dance around an open fire.

Miriam Wolanski, owner of the company, said: “We’ve had months of rig testing, making sure everything was nice and safe for all the performers. We’ve had to adapt some of the setting for tonight (after the fire) but we’re happy with how everything’s gone.

“It’s just such a lovely space to be in.”

Heather from from Wolanski’s Pole & Aerial Fitness performs on Loch Tay.

After the performance, little ones were  invited to make a wish by throwing some “fairy dust” on to the flames to create a fiery light show.

Miriam, who revealed Wolanski’s will be participating in future events at the centre, said: “Our troupe member Charlene Carson-Brown made 104 pouches out of completely recycled fabric.

“They were filled with copper and iron powder, so that people could make their midsummer wish and get blessings on our open fire in the woods – just to bring a little bit of extra magic.”