Lost Knowledge

As an architect, my father used to wonder aloud at the many marvels and systems which the Greeks and Romans had invented and produced, and his inability to understand how the knowledge to reproduce such things had been lost. He would comment:

“They were world leaders – the best in their field.  How do you ‘lose’ knowledge?”

As I looked at Poltalloch House, I finally knew the answer to his question……….


Impressive for Storage

Poltalloch House is not far from Lochgilphead, nestling on a hillside overlooking Loch Crinan. It had obviously been a formidable estate at one time.  There was a Church in the environs, a comfortable stroll away for the gentry – you know the sort of thing. This Church is still used twice a month: there is a notice on the door asking visitors to close it after their departure to avoid swallows nesting inside.
We stumbled across it by chance, pulled by curiosity after noticing a ruined mansion in an elevated position, in the far distance. After several false turns, rutted roads, and gates, we reached our destination.

Poltalloch House was agonisingly eloquent in its suffering.

Its empty elegance and grandeur cried out in distress.

The beautiful workmanship on the finials, the very fine wrought iron craftsmanship on hundreds of metres of fencing, had stood the test of time.

The sandstone too was in excellent condition presumably because the roof had been removed.

We walked its boundaries, silently, respectfully, almost in awe, absorbing what it could tell us. We saw the great rooms, the Conservatory and the stable block. We found the massive boiler room. Everything appeared intact except the roof.

Great trees had now taken up residence inside the house and peered carelessly through the windows at us.

Huge steps, fashioned in stone, were barely visible. The gardens that must once have been could now only be imagined: imposing, solitary weeds now stood seven feet tall.
What once was definitive of majesty was laid low.  Where once there was glory, neglect had taken root. It spoke of Yesterday, where confidence abounded: it informed us that today none can be found. It told, not only of Scottish history, but of Scotland’s future.

This house was a perfect study of so many skills, trades, and architecture. How to create a dwelling of substance and beauty, and where to place it to best advantage.

It incorporated employing and teaching many people a huge range of skills.

Tomorrow the trees will undermine it; vegetation will claim it. It will no longer be seen. It will be no more.

Knowledge, and how to use it, will once again be lost.

Despite the owner’s great distress, the law says it must be preserved in this way. It’s called “preserving a ruin”.

Is there no better ways to use our resources?


Is this what we want – what we really, really want?

Or was the original a better idea?


For some more great pictures of how Poltalloch has been preserved, see



©Linda McLean


2 thoughts on “Lost Knowledge

  1. We tend to take a human centric point of view with these examples of nature taking over what we have built. It is nothing new, this has happened regularly to civilsations that have died out. Take the Maya for example and the consequence of poor management of the environment (see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090722150825.htm). Has modern society learned from this and other examples? We know that we are making massive impacts on the environment but do we do anything about it. If modern civilisation crumbles, it won’t be because of lost knowledge. And the outcome? Nature will claim back what we have used just like earlier civilisations and Poltalloch House.

  2. Thanks for this. Others have been similarly inspired by Poltalloch House. Have you seen the photos at http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/showthread.php?t=9990
    the sad current state described technically at http://www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk/BAR/detail.aspx?sctID=0869&region=Argyll%20and%20Bute&div=Mid%20Argyll,%20Kintyre%20and%20Islay&class=ALL&category=ALL&Page=4&NumImg=20 and the rather dry RCAHMS description athttp://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/search_item/index.php?service=RCAHMS&id=39528? I can sense a trip coming on before it finally crumbles into a pile of rubble.

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