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What is a Broch?

glen elg 008We’re quite keen on history here. If you look at a map of our area you’ll see plenty of gothic script indicating important (or not so important) historic features. Two words you’ll see frequently are ‘dun’ and ‘broch’. But what are they?

Well, a ‘dun’ is essentially a fort. However, the fort indicted on the map is usually long-gone and replaced with a small green hillock; or a town like Dundee, Dunfermline or Dunkeld. Archaeologists tell us that some of these forts would have been around a very, very long time ago, say the early Iron Age. They were often located on a hill, crag or island; the latter was so popular a choice for forts that enterprising tribes started building their own islands, creating something called a ‘crannog’.  Check these out on your OS map, too (many lochs are peppered with them)



And what about a ‘broch’? Academics get hot and bothered over precise definitions, so the best we can say is that a ‘broch’ is a pretty special kind of dun. In fact they are unique to Scotland. Sadly, very few are still intact, but the ones that are are pretty remarkable examples of European Iron Age architecture. At this point we have to try and forget the Parthenon and focus on how people lived in the Scottish Highlands before the birth of Christ. 

glen elg 003The Iron Age has been described as turbulent and socially complex period in our history. We’d made the transition from hunter-gatherers to a more settled way of life and, at first, a lot of buildings were made of wood. In some places, perhaps where there weren’t so many trees, stone roundhouses became more common, and with it came the development of more elaborate structures, including brochs. There must have been some extremely skilled dry stone builders out there. What makes a broch so impressive, apart from the scale (up to thirteen metres high), is the way they were engineered. Stone stairs were built into walls, metres thick, so that you could climb up the inside to the top of the tower. There is an amazing, fully intact broch on the island of Mousa in Orkney where you can still do this.

The big question is: were they symbols of power and authority like a castle; or were they simply a practical means of housing a tribe together in an iron age high-rise? Probably both. However, you do wonder why they decided to build two, very close to each other, in Glen Elg. These brochs, Dun Telve  and Dun Troddan are well worth a visit (a nice excursion from Otter Lodge that includes a trip on the Glenelg ferry)

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