Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A two thousand year old view - the Broch of Loch Ardbhair

After leaving Loch Shark I crossed back over the mouth of Loch a' Chairn Bhain and along the coast, where the map indicates a channel between the mainland and Eilean Rairaidh.  ou really have to believe in the map, because the channel seems hardly to exist, but it's there!

Beyond the island, the mouth of Loch Ardbhair seems to be blocked by a rocky arm, but this channel is also there and leads via an "S" shaped entrance into a shallow loch about 1.5km long and 600 metres wide.  Right at the head of this loch, the map has marked on it "Broch".  Well, this was certainly worth exploring further....

On a small tidal island, the remains of a circular structure can clearly be made out.  There seems some debate as to whether this structure was a true Broch, or some other kind of building, referred to by the generic term "roundhouse".  Brochs appear all over the north of Scotland and particularly in the Northern Isles, and mostly take the form of a tapered round tower type construction with massive walls with well fitting stones, galleried inside and with more than one floor.  They mostly date from 600BC to AD100, a quite considerable period of development.

This "Broch" (also referred to as "An Dun" - the fort) has a single skin drystone wall 8 meters in diameter and up to 3 meters thick at its base.  The quality of construction isn't that good in comparison with some Brochs, but it seems meant to have beeen a defensive or protective structure of some sort.

A drystone dyke, noted by the surveyors as a "causeway now partly displaced" runs down the hill and into the water, emerging at the base of the outer wall.  Whilst I don't have the level of insight that specialists in ancient structures have, I couldn't see this a primarily a causeway.  When looking at ancient structures or ruins I try to put myself in the place of the folk who built and used it.  While this could have had use as a means of access, it's quite narrow and would have been precarious; perhaps it had another use as a means of keeping back some water at the head of the loch on the falling tide, maybe as a fish trap or holding area?

The site of this structure probably hasn't changed that much since the Broch builders constructed and used it nearly two thousand years ago; this would still have been a shallow, Curlew-haunted arm of the sea, hidden from view to those who didn't know it was here.........

....and this view to Quinag from the narrow entrance way can hardly have changed at all in two millenia.  This continuity of place occupied my thoughts as I left the tiny island and headed back out of Loch Ardbhair to the sea.


  1. Fabulous stuff to read while convalescing thank you Ian.

  2. Glad you're enjoying it Douglas - we must paddle this area once you're back on the water :o)