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.