If you’ve been to North-West Scotland, you may well have come across a strange, stone structure. Or, perhaps you’ve seen a picture in a magazine or on Instagram of a weirdly shaped, circular construction somewhere in the depths of Scotland and wondered what on Earth it was.
Well, it may have been a Broch, a unique and fascinating piece of Scottish history.
What is a Broch?
Brochs (pronounced like “lochs” with a “br”) are found predominantly in Orkney, Caithness and the Western Isles and are quite spectacular up close. But what are they? And what were they used for?
Brochs are incredibly old and date from the Iron Age, approximately two thousand years ago. Yikes! Sources estimate at least seven hundred Brochs once existed across Scotland but sadly not many remain very intact. So, if you do find yourself near one, go have a wonder and check out these super old structures.
They’re some of the finest construction achievements of Iron Age Europe and are a pretty incredible feat of architecture, design and engineering. Just think what it took to build such a large strcture so long ago.
The center courtyard of Dun Telve Broch near Glenelg, Ross-shire
Brochs are a type of fortified tower, formed by two concentric, dry-stone walls. They have an inner gap between the stone walls, which have small rooms and storage areas, and steps leading to upper wooden platforms. Inside a Broch is a circular courtyard, which was probably topped with a conical, thatched roof at one point.
If you’ve even been to visit a Broch, you’ll know that these little inner chambers are very small! There also aren’t any windows inside Brochs, either, so a fire would be a pretty essential addition.
Between the walls of Dun Telve Broch near Glenelg, Ross-shire
Many disagree on what Brochs were used for. The most likely use of Brochs were as a structure designed to impress other Scottish clans and were the home of an important chief or warrior. Fragments that have been found inside Brochs reveal that whoever was in these structures enjoyed some pretty nice imported wines and olives from the Mediterranean – quite a luxury at the time.
They were likely to be nice and warm – thanks to the double-walled structure, no rain, wind or snow would be able to permeate the inner wall. The ‘voids’ in the inner walls would also allow smoke from a hearth to circulate through the structure and escape through the roof.
However, some think that Brochs were not built by local communities but by immigrants from England and Europe, hence their unusual shape for the region. Others think that Brochs were used as a place of refuge for the community and their livestock during an attack, rather like a fort or safehouse.
Whatever their use was, they still remain impressive to this day!
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Dun Telve Broch near Glenelg, Ross-shire. It’s one of the most intact Broch examples and was fun to explore, even if it was a classic, rainy west-coast day!
Dun Telve Broch near Glenelg, Ross-shire
Just up the road is another Broch, Dun Troddan. It’s also really well preserved and sits a little up the hill. It’s rare to see two so close together so make sure to stop by both.
I’ve also been to the Carloway Broch of the Isle of Lewis, a very cool Broch in quite a dramatic location.
Carloway Broch on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
The finest example of a Broch still in existence is the Broch of Mousa on the Shetland Isles which rises to an impressive 13.3m (44ft). It’s the tallest prehistoric building in Britain and I hope to get the chance to visit one day!
Have you seen any Brochs while travelling around Scotland? Which one was your favourite?