During this strange phase of our lives, I plan to keep on sharing our tour of Orkney last year – so lovely to look at places we cannot currently visit.
Swapping time periods again, next came the Broch of Gurness. This is still pretty ancient – Iron Age, somewhere between 500 and 200 years BC. The site is also amazingly well preserved (like so many on Orkney) and you can clearly see the surrounding village of individual houses, and much of their interiors, as well as the broch itself.
So what IS a broch?
We visited one on Lewis (Outer Hebrides) a couple of years ago, also remarkably intact.
The circular tower shape of a broch is unmistakable, although historians aren’t actually sure of their purpose, other than being an impressive building with defensible capabilities. They might well have been the home of the principle family of the village, and used as a last resort for defence of the entire population of the surrounding village.
What we do know, is that their construction is not very stable, being merely piled dry stone without any mortar to hold the blocks together. Frankly, it’s amazing so much of them is still standing!
Wandering through the remains is another weird experience, it almost feels like a film set, and yet that air of history seeps out of the ground and you find yourself imagining what life must have been like, back then.
Moving inside the broch itself, you see once again how little headroom these people required:
From Wikipedia: “The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it, which is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
“The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres (11.8 ft) high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres (13.5 ft) thick.”
“The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter.”
(Oh yes, it was raining again!)
And then, even within this one site, we discover there is yet another time jump to be investigated:
The Picts built another dwelling over the original, around 500 years later. This building has now been excavated and moved to a nearby site
You might be forgive for thinking we might be running out of interesting sites to visit on Orkney mainland by now, given that it is only 202 square miles, but you would be very, very wrong…