The weather is as fine as you could wish for on a winter's day, with no wind, certainly a rarity in Orkney, and the sun giving off a weak warmth from the clear blue sky. The coastline of Yesnaby is fantastic, and we've often walked here, but never yet to the broch. At the remains of the old shore battery at Yesnaby we park up, if you head to the left you will soon come to the impressive seastack of Yesnaby castle, but today we head right along the cliftop instead and towards the broch.
Although the fields are a bit muddy from the recent rain, we pick our way across them, surveyed by curious cows, and climb over a couple of stiles which bridge the 'standing stone' fences which divide up the fields here. Soon the broch is visible on its headland, and straight away I'm pleasently surprised by how much remains, particularly after having seen the sad remains of the nearby Oxtro broch earlier. The intact doorway beckons you in, and the walls must rise to around six feet in height at the front of the tower. The doorway now though is chocked with rubble and the entrance low.
I pick my way around the edge of the tower, very close to the cliff edge, and feeling a bit like a character from a videogame, before I step over the remains of the seaward wall which has now mostly gone after fifteen centuries of battering from the prevailing winds. Inside much of the stonework has fallen into the centre of the tower leaving a jumble of stones.
Although both smaler and more ruined that Orkney's more famous brochs of Midhowe and Gurness, Borwick is hidden gem and certainly worth a visit. We sit down on a grassy hummock at the back of the broch and watch the sea crashing against the rocks at the foot of us. It's warm enough to sit comfortably, and taking previous contributor JCHC's advice break out the flask for a nice cup of coffee. The only sounds are the sounds of the sea and the trickle of the waterfall next to us as it tumbles over the rocks down to the shore.
The vivid colours of the clear northern light give the landscape a painterly quality, and as we sit here watching the sun dip lower everything seems a bit surreal. Ellen and I sit together quietly lost in our own thoughts as sun sets to our left, colouring the sea a blood red. A place like this is a wonderful spot to just sit and take everything in, to absorb the magical atmosphere of Orkney, but now as the sun sets the chill of evening starts to bite, so we set off back on our walk to the car.
Going down the road to Yesnaby almost instantly you realise that this is one of the routes in Orkney that has missed out on a closer look by the archaeological community, using CANMAP there seems little here but on the ground it appears jam-packed. Abundant rocky outcrops do confuse matters I suppose. If I were looking for the broch again I would try for the more direct approach from Borwick Farm. Going along the coast as I did is only for the very able bodied and definitely not when it has been chucking it down. First obstacle a barbwire fence, which fortunately at one section has a couple of lines missing. Here tou can see two lines of 'standing stone fences' intersect [see Breck spine for a fence example]. One of the fences goes across till it hugs all along the very cliff edge. Oh these standing stones are real beauties standing in sturdy big slab-lined rectangular sockets magnificently constructed. Eventually you see the broch ahead on a small headland. For most people the best thing to do would be to use a good telephoto shot from this spot (which I missed out on) and then turn back. The photo would look as if taken from a rock-steady boat to my mind. But now you descend a steep and slippery hillside and cross the stream just above the ruin in the narrow valley. Now an uphill struggle and a barbwire fence. The stile over this is of inferior modern construction - two strips of wood parallel to the fence at no distance and resting on narrow pillars. There is no gap in the fence here and my shortish legs only just scraped over. At the top of the hill entrance to the site is over a less rickety stile thank goodness. Before this standing stone fence at left there is a rectangular depression with several stones that is definitely not wall. To the front right of the broch tower there is a large area covered with stones of various sizes and conditions. Once inside the fence you can see that there is one large thin slab that appears to show a structure. The entrance to the broch tower is round to the left. In front of this are two now uncapped guard cells in plain view, the left being especially well preserved. The doorway is only preserved up to the lintel but apart from a bit of a gap there the broch continues up for several courses more. Some large stones lie on the entrance floor and make it so that you have to bend over to scramble through. Inside there are still some suggestions of structure. All the back is gone of course, and there the broch wall remains are only a couple of feet across and back onto sheer cliff. In order to obtain an overview I had to stand on this hunched back with my 28mm attached, when I just managed the shot. On going back I could see two structural holes either side of the entrance - for a bar ??
Positioned on a colapsing cliff face, the rear of the Broch is lost but here's the front. You can step inside and see a few wall chambers, although a lot of the structure is collapsed.
Stop at Yesnaby for a perfect place to open up that flask of tea and have a sandwich.
The easiest way to get there is by parking up at Yesnaby just off the B9056 south of Skara Brae, you'll see the sign post. Once there, get out and walk north along the coastal cliff face till you see the Broch itself beside a small stack.
The King of the Brough of Borwick fought with the King of Verran, Voyatown [northern edge of Stenness Loch] on the hillslope called Bluntland (which subsequently became East Giron), and when this land was first broken up many slewchan stones [big slingshot] were found.
Access to the site has been improved and it is now part of the West Coast Walk (the Viking Heaths project is out of booklets at the moment), still from Yesnaby car park - though there is as yet no signpost for the walk at this.
DO NOT park on the grass anywhere