Caithness, the most northerly part of the Scottish mainland, is home to world-class surf, gorgeous peatland, dramatic coastline and… the mysterious, towering stacks of rock known as brochs.
Brochs have been described as the ‘pinnacle of prehistoric architecture’, and once you’ve seen one, you’ll find it incredibly hard to disagree. The oldest one dates back over 2000 years and their construction still puzzles archaeologists, engineers and architects around the world. How were they built? What were they used for? As physically imposing as they are, we don’t think they were military posts. Instead they may have been status symbols in the prehistoric world.
These huge, drystone towers are entirely unique to Scotland – they are truly impressive, but with over 200 it’s Caithness that is the true home of the broch.
There are of course many fine brochs to visit, but these are our absolute favourite. Here’s why… If you make it out to visit happy #brochbragging!
Set on the historic east coast of Caithness, with castles, brochs and more, Nybster is one of the most stunning, and important, brochs of all. It was probably built between about 200 BC and 200 AD and re-used during the Pictish period (AD 300 – 800). Nybster was first excavated at the turn of the 20th century, though archaeologists returned over a hundred years later to try and understand the broch’s complex structure – the appearance of unusually thick walls without any ‘classical’ broch features such as guard cells or scarcements has led some to believe this may have not been a broch in the traditional sense! The broch yielded several interesting finds, including a Roman ‘melon’ bead fragment – an indicator of the level of trade in the area.
Don’t miss: The nearby monument that the site’s original excavator – Tress Barry – erected in his own honour, and the Caithness Broch Centre just a short walk away.
This broch has a backstory as interesting as its backdrop is beautiful. Set among the rolling peatlands of Caithness on the banks of Loch Rangag, the enigmatic remains of Greysteil Castle is the subject of an intriguing 16th century poem, involving invincible but tainted knights, magic swords and fingers being sliced off. Unbeatable for a good view.
Don’t miss: The unique ‘horsehoe’ stone circle of Achavanich only a mile away, and the Achavanich Beaker Burial also discovered nearby.
This one’s a monster and with its commanding views across the nearby town of Thurso, the Pentland Firth and Dunnet Head, it’s little wonder this broch was re-used in Viking times as a meeting place or perhaps even form of parliament – hence the name ‘Thing’, old Norse for ‘meeting place’. Although there is little to be seen structurally at this broch site, you will be amazed by the sheer size and scope of this structure.
Don’t miss: The views across Caithness. Imagine being a powerful Viking earl and shouting across the landscape – so noisy you could wake up the occupants of the nearby cairn!
Hidden within the Dunbeath strath and nestled within the trees, Dunbeath is hidden from public view. If you manage to find it, we’d love to see you brag about it on Twitter! It’s a pleasant stroll, and a real sense of calm and reflection can be attained whilst gazing at the ancient ruins. It’s no wonder famous local author Neil M. Gunn was so inspired by this broch in his writing.
Don’t miss: The walk further along the strath is full of history – from ancient chapels to hut circles, and is dripping with gorgeous scenery. Dunbeath Heritage Centre is also located nearby and well worth a visit!
Why visit one broch when you could visit five? In a stretch of river little more than 3 miles long you will find five brochs, two within a few hundred yards of each other! Further south along the river you will come across the remains of 3 broch sites as well as stone rows, in an area steeped in history and beautiful scenery.
Don’t miss: The remains of Dirlot Castle are situated little over 3 miles away from Westerdale Mill. Check out the unusually-shaped graveyard, and the ‘Devils Pool’, which reputedly contains sunken gold – sadly, several divers have died trying to recover the fabled treasure.
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