Brochs are Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structures of a type found only in Scotland. They are the most spectacular of roundhouse buildings. Generally the towers comprised thick, double skinned circular walls, as much as 13m/40ft in height though normally between 5m/16ft and 10m/33ft high, windowless on the outside and with internal galleries.
There are well over 500 brochs in Scotland, most of them found in northern and western Scotland and the islands.
Residence for the principal family
Much has been written about their origins and there is evidence to show that as early as 600BC there was a tradition of building defensive, circular structures. It is thought that brochs grew from the need to show both status and defence, and so they indicated the authority of an individual community as well as its strength. The tower itself was likely to be a residence for the principal family, with dwellings for the ordinary people around the walls.
Here are some brochs you will see during our walking holidays:
The broch was probably built in the late Iron Age. Tirefour Castle broch was inhabited until the Middle Ages. Among the finds in the broch were an enamel brooch from the Roman era, a decorative pin from the 8th century and a Norse pin and rivets, dating from the 11th or 12th century. During our The Best of Argyll walking holiday we will have a day walk on the Isle of Lismore, visiting the broch and other historic sites.
Tirefour Castle broch, Isle of Lismore
Dun Beag is one of the best preserved brochs in Skye and a good example of a broch tower. Perched on a rocky hilltop, it is commanding excellent views of the surrounding landscape. The broch has a number of defensive features. It appears to have been occupied for a very long period – medieval and later coins were recovered from the site in the early 1900s. This broch is vitited during our Morar & Skye luxury walking tour.
Dun Beag broch, Isle of Skye
The broch at Midhowe on the Isle of Rousay is one of around eleven brochs on Eynhallow Sound and occupies a commanding position on a coastal promontory. The remains of the broch tower, which was probably built towards the end of the first millennium BC, stand over 4m high. This central tower is surrounded by a settlement of stone houses each with its own yard. When the site was excavated in the 1930s much was found to give an insight into life at this time: goods like pottery, stone and bone tools, and also evidence that metal artefacts were manufactured from bronze and iron. Roman objects such as pottery suggested trade or contact outside the island.
During our Orkney walking tour walk along the west coast of Mainland Orkney, we will also visit the Broch of Borwick, which is perched on a cliff along the coast.
Midhowe Broch, Isle of Rousay, Orkney Islands
This broch on the uninhabited island of Mousa stands 13m/40ft high and is the most impressive and world's best preserved Pictish broch. The skill and accuracy of its builders has resulted in a 2,000-year-old construction that appears today as though the builders have just laid the last stone and gone home for the
night. Perhaps one of the reasons it has survived so well is that its diameter (15m/49ft at the base and 12m/39ft at the top) is slightly smaller than other brochs, and the base of the wall is so thick that the interior is only 6m/20ft across. It is still possible to climb the stairs to the top of the tower, allowing a fuller appreciation of the construction of the whole.
There are thought to have been 120 brochs on Shetland, so don't be surprised to see more brochs during our Shetland walking tours, including at Jarlshof and Culswick.
Mousa Broch, Shetland Islands