Pembrokeshire Coast Path A change from the usual subject as I’m stranded away from home during lockdown. Writing posts isn’t so easy because I don’t have my laptop with me. So, in the meantime, I’m… More
The best preserved broch in the outer hebrides
This is the most well known broch in the Outer Hebrides and the only one to rise to such a height. It’s certainly a striking feature in the landscape, sitting up above the crofting township of Carloway, on the west side of Lewis.
The broch was probably built about 200BC but could have been in use up to about 1000AD. It was quite common for brochs to be used again as strongholds during medieval times and the Morrison Clan are said to have used Dun Carloway as a stronghold in the 1500’s.
The entrance is on the north side and most of the walls on this side have collapsed, leaving a view of the interior structure.
The door is only a metre high and would have had been well defended. As you go in the door there is a small guard chamber set into the wall.
The interior, showing a low entrance into one of two chambers on the ground floor.
A common broch feature is the scarcement which is when the lower part of the wall is made thicker so that it forms a ledge to support the wooden floor above it. Here the line of the scarcement can be seen about halfway between the lower and upper doorways. The lower wall would also have been made thicker to support the huge weight of the tower above it.
An artist’s impression of the broch shows how the space inside would have been used, with animals kept on the ground floor and living quarters on the floors above. Stairs and galleries were built between the concentric walls.
The highest part of the broch is 9m high and it probably wouldn’t have been much higher than this originally.
There are extensive views across the surrounding landscape as well as out to sea.
Ruins of blackhouses in the field below the broch. No guessing where the stone would have come from! Blackhouses were the traditional form of cottage with thatched roofs and rounded corners.
A few miles down the road are the famous Calanais Stones and its surrounding ritual landscape of stone circles and other Neolithic monuments. There is nowhere like this small area in the remote west of Lewis to evoke such a connection with the distant past.
Nybster Broch is in the far north of Scotland, 7 miles down the coast from John O’Groats, and sits on top of a headland of sheer cliffs.
The remains of the broch are well preserved and although they don’t rise much above ground level there’s still plenty to see on the ground, including the round base of the broch itself and the walls of surrounding buildings which formed a settlement around it.
Surrounded by sheer cliffs on three sides, the broch could only be accessed from the landward side and was protected by a thick defensive wall which curved across the headland.
The inside of the broch is 7m in diameter and has walls that are over 4m thick.
Brochs were massive stone towers and usually had a small heavily fortified entrance but no windows. They were probably built both for defence and as a status symbol and they would have been impressive but formidable features in the Iron Age landscape of Caithness.
They are characterised by having double walls with stairs and galleries within the walls. Below is an example of a broch at Dun Carloway on the Isle of Lewis.
At Nybster there’s no evidence of the typical double wall or galleries but it’s possible that they started above the level of the existing stonework. Or it could be that this was a much lower structure with a single thick wall – maybe more of a dun-like broch or a broch-like dun?
Above: Some of the buildings of the settlement that was squeezed in around the broch. The rather incongruous memorial behind the broch is Mervyn’s Tower and was built in the late 19th by Sir Francis Tress Barry, who was the first person to excavate the broch. He built it as a memorial to his nephew and probably used stones removed during the excavation.
Brochs are mainly found in the north Highlands and islands of Scotland, and Caithness has the largest concentration – over 200 of them! A few years ago the Caithness Broch Project was set up with the aim of preserving and promoting their brochs and other important prehistoric sites in the county. The ultimate aim is to build a broch from scratch in the traditional way and this would be the centre piece of a visitor centre and a great place to find out all about brochs. Their website is a good starting point for exploring the brochs, cairns, stone circles and standing stones of Caithness.
Nybster Broch is easily accessible – although you may need a head for heights at some parts of the path. The path starts at the carpark and follows the edge of the cliff to the broch. Below are some photos taken from our walk along the coast path.
A small, fairly inconspicuous cromlech but worth a visit for its setting above Criccieth and the added interest of some cupmarks.
Criccieth is an attractive coastal town on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales and it is best known for its imposing Welsh castle, perched on a rocky headland between the towns two beaches. At the opposite end of the beach from the castle a short walk eastwards takes you towards the cromlech.
The cairn is in a ruinous state and the relatively slim capstone has slipped and is embedded in the ground.
A slight mound stretches out from the western end of the chamber, presumably the remains of material from the long cairn that would have covered it.
There are cupmarks on two faces of the upright stone supporting the capstone. Four of them are just visible here but they didn’t come out well in the photo. The rest are on the inside of the chamber and although it was easy to feel them when I ran my hand across the stone it was difficult to get a decent photo.
The burial chamber can be accessed from the main road above or from walking along the beach from the seafront.
If walking down to it from the car park on the main road you can see the cromlech from the western end of the carpark. Walk back down the road until you come to a public footpath leading down the hill. The cromlech isn’t far from the footpath.
Stunning views back to the town and castle and R looking across Tremadog Bay and down the coast.
To approach from the seafront, carry on along the beach until you see a public footpath going across the railway line and follow the path up the hill a little way, veering off to the right to reach the burial chamber.
Walking to Caer Dyni across the beach took longer than I expected because I got distracted by geology and beach combing!
The beach is strewn with huge glacial erratics that have broken away from the soft glacial till in the low cliffs beside this section of the beach.
Above R – An erratic boulder coming loose from the soft glacial till. This boulder was about a metre high and many on the beach were even bigger.