Last February, when we were planning our trip to Scotland, hurricanes were the last thing on my mind. But with the remnants of Hurricane Lee belting the western coast of Scotland it had been a wet and windy first few days of our trip.
We had planned a hike on an ancient footpath that went from our base at the Glenelg Inn on the western coast of Scotland, past Bernera Barricks, a remnant of a 18th century British fort, to the historic ferry at Kylea. In the afternoon we saw a window of clearing in the forecast and headed down the lane to enter the footpath. The initial views were quintessential Scotland with sheep in a pasture and the Kyle Rhea waterway in the background.
But unfortunately, within 400 yards belts of wind whipped rain had us scurrying into a community hall for respite and some hot tea for our British cousins.
There we developed a plan B – a short drive in the opposite direction to visit “The Brochs”. They were 2500 year old roadside cylindrical “houses” built of stone that are unique to Scotland and primarily found in the northwest corner of the country. The rain persisted but was more tolerable when we knew that we would not be in it for hours. We left our vehicles for the short jaunt to the first Broch as seen in the title photo.
While the main emphasis was on understanding their history, nature was present as the broch was shaded by a massive maple tree and was positioned just above a quick flowing mountain stream.
The structure was impressive, especially considering its age. We entered through a low doorway and found ourselves in a central space.
The interpretive signage went a long way in helping us understand the appearance of the structures at the time of their use.
They were constructed with double-skinned stone walls that supported each other as well as a roof. There were stairs and passage ways between the walls. Given the similarity in design and construction, some archeologists believe that there may have been traveling broch experts who oversaw their construction.
Close study of the quality of the dry stacked stonework led you to understand why they had survived the elements so well.
In fact, the entire stone structure was intact until the mid 1700s when the British army dismantled a large portion of it to repurpose the stone for the construction of Brerara Barracks, a military installation a short distance up the road.
While there is much speculation on the function of the buildings, as to whether they served a military function or just housing for an extended family, most archeologists feel that the ground level space was used for livestock, and that there was probably at least 2 additional levels of suspended living space above this. Unfortunately the sites were excavated in the early 20th century, in an unprofessional manner by today’s standards, and the opportunity for good scientific study was lost.
As the rain picked up we hurried to our cars and opted to find refuge in the most remote craft brewery that I have ever seen. It was developed in the outbuildings of an old farm.
The beer was outstanding and the conversations, both amongst ourselves and other patrons were entertaining.
Eventually the rain lessened and we saw an opportunity to scurry up the hill on the other side of the lane to visit another broch. Others saw an opportunity for an additional porter or pale ale and elected to remain behind.
To get into the pasture that hosted this second broch we had to pass through a stile. Stiles are not common in the U.S. but are seen everywhere on the Footpaths of the United Kingdom. There are many forms or designs but they all have the same goal – to provide transit across a fence row with no chance of allowing farm animals to escape through a misclosed gate. With this stile a single individual would step into the vestibule of the stile, swing the gate behind them, and step into the pasture. Each member of the group would repeat the process as there is only room for one in the stile.
The trip up was a challenge on the rain slickened grass and trail.
The second broch was not quite as tall as the first but the internal walkways and stairways were more intact.
Like with the previous broch, stone salvage led to some dismantling of the structure.
If the function of the brochs were defensive, as some historians have suggested, this second one, about 500 yards from the first, was better positioned, up high on this hill, affording better observation of the valley and the historic roadway below.
In summary, like the song says, “You can’t always get what you want”. While the weather was a challenge and altered our plans, it did afford us the opportunity to experience some local ancient history and to relish in this Scottish community. Unfortunately our itinerary did not allow for us to revisit the planned hike on the historic footpath to the ferry.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns, JoAnne Thomason, and Karen Rockell.
Location – Kyle IV40 8JX, United Kingdom. It is less than a mile outside Glenelg, Scottland.
Parking – scattered pull offs on a one lane road.
Trail Conditions – a combination of gravel, bare dirt, and grass. The trails to the brochs are less than 100 yards.
Trail Map Link – none
Benches – none
Picnic Tables – none.
Kids – 6 and older should do well here.
Dogs – both brochs appear to be in farm pastures so a leash is necessary.
Suggested Paired Hikes – none