The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Carrol

Broch

Fieldnotes

I'm aware that most generalisations proffered are, by their very nature, likely to be sent packing back to whence they came in short order. That being said, however, I reckon it's fair to suggest that many areas of these British Isles feature what might be termed a 'signature' type of prehistoric monument. Consider: Cornwall has its quoits; Wessex has its overwhelming multi-vallate hill forts; Dartmoor has its interminable stone rows; Wales its seemingly boundless supply of upland cairns, to all intents and purposes forming one huge Bronze Age cemetery in the (all too frequent) clouds; Ireland... spoilt for choice... but I'll go with its raths. Yeah, but what of Scotland? OK, Aberdeenshire is famed for its RSCs, granted. But, upon reflection, I think it has to be the broch. Those idiosyncratic, double-skinned, dry stone 'cooling towers' of yore erected with such sublime skill the mind boggles. It would seem we have a consensus that some 500-odd brochs may still be seen gracing the landscape today. Not that I've undertaken the arithmetic myself, you understand.

Of all the brochs I've had the pleasure of spending some time at over the years arguably few (Allt a’Bhurg, perhaps?) offer a better appreciation of the archetypal ground plan, the inherent component parts, than that overlooking Loch Brora above Carrol farm. Now fellow Essex man Martin Gore may well caution against employing a strict 'policy of truth'... however I must confess to not having a Scooby about the existence of the monument prior to some hasty, last minute research a few days before my visit. But there you are. That, after all, is what TMA is for and, following a short drive south along the A9 from my overnight stop within the wondrous Glen Loth, I park up before the (rather fine) suspension bridge spanning the River Brora. A notice informs the curious traveller that said bridge was erected to assist local children travelling to/from school. Tsk... soft, mollycoddled kids of today. What are they like? Commuting in a Ford not good enough, eh?

Anyway, the plod along the estate track following the river back toward its inception is, well, quite a plod, albeit one enlivened by anticipated watery views to the right upon breaking free from forestry above Leadoch. To the left tower the deceptively impressive crags of Duchary Rock harbouring a (so it transpires) rather fine hill fort. My 'plod' morphs into more of a purposeful 'stride' as the way ahead becomes more focussed, an islet within the loch (Eilean nam Faoileag) apparently bearing the remains of a castle (what price replacing an earlier structure?), the tall, wire fence defining my other flank ensuring no serpentine deviation from my route into the once again prevalent forestry. Len's stile, preceding the Allt Coire Aghaisgeig, is easily spotted, a brief, sweaty struggle - sorry, I don't wear deodorant when walking - earning an audience with the elevated broch. So, that's the water source sorted, then? Check.

From afar the broch resembles a rather impressive chambered cairn. That this is manifestly not the case becomes apparent, however, upon clambering up to the summit of the stone pile to find the structure hollow, albeit in a strictly 'structural' sense. For one thing, the circular central court is occupied by some industrial strength vegetation - forget the Weedol, we're talking flamethrowers, or the Gorgon breath of my appalling late Step-grandmother to make any impression whatsoever; furthermore there is nothing remotely 'empty' about the vibe here, the silence, punctuated now and again by the rhythmic call of the cuckoo, pervading an atmosphere seemingly pregnant with implied meaning. If only one had the 'key' to facilitate the delivery of such knowledge, such insight. Hey, just what is the landscape trying to say? After 30 years doing this I actually think I'm beginning to get it, to understand. However trying to communicate it is another matter entirely. Tell me about it.

The broch itself is, frankly, quite superb, the entrance passage arguably the most well preserved I've seen to date, complete with door jambs and draw bar slot, not to mention lintels still in situ. The attendant 'guard cell' - not sure about the veracity of such a classification since the draw bar didn't seem operable from within? - is intact, a crawl inside revealing the superb 'dry stone corbelling' construction technique illuminated by natural light streaming from above, the chamber an oasis of cool from the heat without. Even with me in it. Yes, really. Hey, are we sure this is Scotland? Above, the wall head exhibits intra-mural passages and steps; in fact all the 'brochy things' one would anticipate, but not always get. Hey, there's also a low, surrounding wall and what appears to be a proto-'barbican' protecting the entrance... although whether these are original elements of the design or remnants of later settlement I guess might well be open to debate within musty academic circles.

The sweeping vista across Loch Brora is very much in order, too, complementing the archaeological excellence. To be honest I could've sat here all day watching cars trundle along the minor road traversing the far side of the loch, content in the knowledge that no muppet was likely to venture up here to shatter the idyll, this perfect symmetry of past and present. However the hill rising more-or-less immediately south above Coire Aghaisgeig draws the eye. Not for itself - although it's hard to believe it's only c856ft high - but for what lies beyond: Duchary Rock and its hill fort. I decide to forego an easy return, put myself out a little and go have a look.
GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
7th July 2018ce
Edited 8th July 2018ce

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