Doocots, sometimes called dovecotes, are the remnants of a type of farming practice in the Highlands that went on for a long period, around five hundred years. In that period the keeping of the pigeons for food all the year round had a marked impact on the countryside. It eventually led to the large numbers of feral pigeons to be seen in and around Inverness. It also led to the demise of the pure rock dove around the coast and islands because of hybridisation with the feral pigeons. Considering the importance of doocots as historic buildings it is surprising that so many of them are either gone or ruinous. It is also surprising that very few comprehensive surveys have been carried out on doocots, but recently the activities of the Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group has been correcting this oversight. Various areas have and are being surveyed and the first survey to be published was “Doocots of Scotland – Moray” by N.A.Brown published in 2004. The second, published in 2006, is “Doocots of Lanarkshire” by Munro Dunn. The third one is “The Doocots of the Highlands” by Elizabeth Beaton, that was published in 2008, and it also covers the Northern Isles.
One fascinating aspect of the doocots scattered throughout the Highlands is how much they vary. Some like the old beehive shape such as one at Gordonstoun that dates back to the late sixteenth century are similar to each other. The same could be said of the lectern shaped ones dating back to the 1600s such as the one at Cadboll near Fearn in Easter Ross shown in the photograph. Otherwise it seems that the basic concept of having nesting shelves inside a structure was the only common denominator and the shape of the outside varied depending on the whims of the designer or builder. Just how many doocots are in the Highlands has in the past been open to speculation although the new publications on them will help. In the area of Moray there are 39 doocots whilst, disappointingly, at least 33 have been lost. The survey of the Highlands has revealed around 45 with a further 14 in the Northern Isles with no figures for lost ones. Let us hope that the further surveys by the Working Group will eventually build up a picture for the whole of Scotland. Meanwhile they have produced two black and white postcards One is a cross section and plan of the “beehive” doocot at Gordonstoun with a background of the interior of the Dalvey doocot at Forres. The other is a cross section and plan of the lectern type doocot at Leitcheston at Buckie with background of the same doocot as Gordonstoun.
Although there are many doocots lost or ruinous there are a few success stories and one is the example at Grange Hall near Findhorn. The building was built around 1802 and is hexagonal in shape. It fell into disuse and was completely refurbished in 1996/97. There are a number of interesting features such as the fact that the pigeons were housed in the upper part of the building that is reached by a ladder and the bottom part was at one time used to keep pigs. Another interesting feature is the very wide continuous ledge around the top of the doocot just below the entrance holes and used for alighting pigeons. Let us hope that the future of the present doocots that are in good condition will remain and not fall into ruin like so many have done in the past.