There’s a wildness to the far north of Scotland, a bleak beauty and atmosphere quite unlike anywhere else, and surprisingly more ancient remains than you might realise. On our regular trips back up to Orkney we’ve been making an effort to try and visit at least one new place each time. Today the lucky site was Dunbeath broch, a nice and easily accessible site to break up our ten hour drive.
The A9 normally thunders past the village of Dunbeath, but if you take the time to turn off and park at the Dunbeath heritage centre, an old mill signposted from the turn and a mere minute from the A9, you’ll be right next to a nice footpath which leads to the broch, as well as, according to the nearby information board, a few other enticing megalithic sites.
The walk along the Strath of Dunbeath is beautiful, the babbling of the river a gentle accompaniment to your stroll, with little sound other than that of birds to be heard. The trees flanking the path are shrouded with a pale green moss, which hangs from the branches in wisps, and adds to the ethereal atmosphere.
Soon we are confronted by a slightly wonky looking Indiana Jones style wooden suspension bridge over the river, which despite my remonstrance’s to Ellen about its structural integrity, wobbles and creaks in such as precarious manner as to cause her some consternation. I scoot across it, and with some encouragement Ellen joins me on the other side, where the path forks. Directly ahead the path heads up a steep incline, at the top of which a dry stone wall is visible enclosing a stand of trees, and within which I know the broch can be found.
The broch is not the biggest or best preserved I’ve ever seen, but any shortcomings it might have are more than made up for by its atmosphere. Inside the enclosure of the dry stone walls a circle of moss covered trees protectively surround the remains of the broch. The open tower interior faces you, with the highest remaining parts of the walls at the back, and a small entranceway to a chamber built into the thickness of the wall encouraging you in. Although a low stoop is required to enter the chamber once inside it’s possible to stand upright, the roof, displaying fine corbelling, must be a good 7’ high.
I’m impressed with Dunbeath. As I walk around the exterior of the ruined broch wild primroses can be seen growing in clumps at the base of the walls, the sheltering trees reach out skeletal, branch like fingers over the tower, and mosses and grass colonising the still firm masonry give a sense of the broch gradually settling into the landscape and becoming another part of nature. I feel like I’ve stumbled upon something from a landscape out of Game of Thrones, but of course this is better because it’s real, and I’m here, enjoying just another part of Caithness’ rich historic remains.
We’re conscious of the time, having a ferry to catch, but it’s been much better spending time here rather than hanging around in Scrabster waiting for the boat (if you’ve ever been to Scrabster you’ll appreciate why!) and it’s a place that definitely warrants a return visit, especially since a visit to the broch can be combined with a lovely tree lined walk which continues along the river and on to some chambered cairns and a standing stone further down the valley.