Scottish Highland Thatching (a' Tugadh)
Training and Consultancy
Based in Perthshire
About the Scottish styles of thatching
Scottish thatching (Highlands' and Islands' styles) are quite different from what most people would think of as a thatched
house, which is in fact an English or Scottish Lowland style.
Lowland Scottish and English styles are very similar - they both use cuilc (water reed / Norfolk reed). This material is quite rare in the Highlands, hence our use of about six other materials:
Fraoch - heather
Luachar - rashes / soft rush
Muran - marram grass
Bun dubh raineach - the black foot of bracken
Random thatch oat straw
Black oat straw
Bealaidh - broom
I thatch in the above materials with the exception of Oat Straw and Muran which are no longer available in viable quantities and quality. Sorry about that, but I don't control the growing of the materials. You might.
I thatch in the following styles:
Hip roof (black and white photo above)
Gable / duo pitch roof (white house in photo above)
Conical roof (as in Celtic round-house)
Argyll Style, with stitched ridge
Mainland Highland Style
Lowland style using cuilc (reed / phragmites). This is what most people think of as a thatched cottage.
I also build, repair or advise on the build of the roof timbers themselves, beyond the thatch alone. This involves other
aspects unique to Scottish styles:
Crupan - couples / cruck frame
Sgrothan - turf divot under-thatch
Cabairean - cabers
Sugan - ropes, nets and stones
Sgolpan - the hand-made, cleaved hazel staples that secure ropes and thatch
The thatching work that I do currently
Small rethatching projects such as garden pavillions, routine maitenance and small repairs.
Thatching projects within the Lothians, Lanarkshire, Perthshire, Angus, Stirling and Argyllshire i.e. within two hours or so of Perth.
Pre-purchase and insurance surveys of thatched roofs across the whole of Scotland.
Training in thatching skills at my own site (near Crieff, Perthshire).
Training for property owners and managers on their own building (mainland Scotland only).
Work I am not currently undertaking
Work in the Hebrides, inner or outer, and the northern isles: It's too expensive and impractical.
Larger property projects.
Repairs and rethatching on properties above one storey unless the client is supplying a scaffolding. (My own scaffolding is for single storey buildings only.)
I only use traditional materials in the roof. I do not use stainless steel or wire ties or rods, plastic string etc. This is important if your roof is of scheduled / listed status. It is also important for the health of the roof and its environmental impact.
Generally, the way I approach thatching is to put a building back the way it was designed to be and to, if possible, reinstate the human context that supported the building's maintenance. This latter involves where possible training property keepers, developing sources of local thatch materials and removing historically inappropriate and unsustainable inclusions in the roof. We think it's important to rethatch a Scottish roof in the local or original style, applying the 500 Yard Rule: if you can't find the materials fairly close to the site then you're moving out of the local style and into higher costs and other vernacular styles. It's not always possible to stick to the 500 yard rule, but it's a good start point. Often cuilc / water reed is imported from Eastern Europe nowadays. I only use Scottish reed. You'll want to ask about and consider this when looking for a thatcher.
Community Group Projects
A good part of my work is for community groups, NGOs and the like, wishing to use a thatching project to engage and skill the
public in revitialising a building or creating a new outdoor, covered workspace. See the video.
A video about a community garden thatching project (a Celtic round house).
Argyllshire traditional luachair thatch dwelling from 1850s ~ ~ ~ ~ A new build Celtic roundhouse for a community group
A luachar thatch (rush) when new ~~ A bealaidh thatch (broom) when new
Who We Are
I work as a team of two thatchers, myself (Scot AnSgeulaiche) and Weaver and
sometimes a labourer.
I trained with the late Jim Souness, who trained with Duncan Matheson (Duncan
Stalker) and Gaelic-speaking thatchers from Tiree. In keeping with the Highland
tradition, we're not "Master Thatchers" the way the trade has in
England. The Highlands didna really have such, historically
speaking. Houses were maintained communally, by rotation within the townships.
Today we have about six professional thatchers in Scotland (although a very
small number of owners still maintain their own thatch, as we used to do).
What does thatching a roof cost?
Typically a small highland cottage will cost £5000-6000 for ath-tughadh (dressing thatch) and £6000-9000 for a complete rethatch, both dependent on materials, location, state of the existing roof and so on.
If you are considering a thatch project, here are two things that make a big difference to the cost, at least for my jobs:
Is there free, basic accommodation close to the site? Two weeks of accommodation for a team could be a four figure sum. Camping or some dry barn in which to sleep, a place to cook food, a place to dry wet clothing overnight, a shower is all that is required and you might save the hotel cost.
Where is the thatch material to come from? Is it easily accessible locally? And is it of good quality? Only one of the half-dozen thatch materials used in Scotland is available to buy off the peg, the rest are wild-gathered. 50% of the cost of a thatch is the material. If it is of poor quality or difficult to source then that cost goes up a lot.
Thatch is put onto a roof structure that has been designed for thatch. It cannot successfully be added to a roof designed for slate, tin, tile etc. without some rebuilding. If you are wanting a thatch newbuild, talk to me about the roof structure before your build it.
Following the above, if you are wanting to convert your existing roof to thatch, I advise against it. You can do anything with enough money, but a cottage conversion is going to cost you £10-20,000, which is probably a lot more than you thought.
Thatch materials are seasonally available. Most require more than a year's notice to source. If you are an organisation with yearly funding rounds, keep that in mind.
Thatch is not the cheap option when roofing a house. There is a reason that there are few thatched properties left in Scotland (about 100): despite the large upfront cost, slate and tin are cheaper in the long run. However, owners want a thatched roof not for its cost effectiveness but for its beauty, tradition and environmental credentials. A thatched holiday let is a great assett and can command a premium rental fee.
Thatch is a sacrificial material. It needs small amounts of yearly care and inspection and must be replaced once it has worn out. You don't thatch a roof and walk away.
How long does a thatch last?
If it is maintained correctly (serviced like a
car each year) then a thatch job will last between 3 and 40
years, depending on material type, the property location. At the end of that time,
a "dressing thatch" /"ath-tughadh" would be needed. A complete rethatch is only needed when maintenance has been neglected. I am keen to train roof owners to do the yearly maintenance for themselves.
The Dundee Tide Marker as part of the Climate Change Conference (COP 26) 2021
A heather thatch, when new
A cuilc thatch (Tay reed) completed
Training in Highland thatching is offered in a few different ways.
I host one or two day short thatching experience workshops at my own home when enough students have requested it. Email to declare an interest. Covering by request: hazel gathering and cleaving, material sourcing, thatching with different materials and their respective techniques, tools. The cost per day for workshops is £130.
Home owners / property managers can be trained on their own building as part of a (re)thatching job or maintenance. The owner is required to be present throughout the whole job as a trainee and labourer. The cost of the job is slightly higher to cover the additional time required to train at each task or skill, but is a very cost effective way for owners to gain a good level of skill and confidence in maintaining their property, or being able to talk knowledgeably with a future thatcher about work.
Training is offered in an apprentice type arrangement, whereby the trainee joins the team for a specified number of professional jobs, probably over two years (thatching season is September to March). Each job is likely to be 7-14 days. During the job you are paid a basic hourly rate. Your labour is sold to the client at a higher rate, thus covering the time-costs of your training. At the end of this training you would be able to take on thatching work independently or continue as a full-paid member of my team.
Just work. For the gathering of materials aspect of the project, there is always paid work available, paid at the living wage level. Training is limited only to the specific task, but it does give you experience of working on a thatching project. Successful gatherers may be offered continued work on the actual thatching part of the job.
I am pleased to say that in 2023, I have been awarded funding by the Heritage Crafts Association to take on an apprentice. This project aims for there to be one more professional highland thatcher in Scotland by its completion. That's an increase of about 50% on the currently available thatchers in Scotland! I would hope to offer more semi-formal apprenticeships in the future.
Highland Thatch Consultancy
If you care for or are considering buying a thatched property in the Highlands or Islands you'll want to know more about
the indigenous thatch styles. If you are applying for a HES grant to rethatch, then understanding the difference between
Highland and Lowland / English thatch, traditional and non-traditional materials or styles might be important. Your thatched building might be listed and thus require a local style and traditional techniques and materials. I can advise on these.
I can conduct a thatch survey if you are looking to purchase a property or to appraise the life expectancy and problem areas of the current thatch, or for insurance purposes. Many home insurance companies require a thatch report every five years.
If you just need some initial outline help, a first phone call will cost you nothing! If you need a more worked up
proposal, start with that free phone call or email and we'll cost it from there.
This video shows the sustainable harvesting of Cuilc, which is a thatch type suitable for Lowland style properties in Scotland and England.
Site created 2016. Updated 2023. All images copyright.