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Fieldnotes by LesHamilton

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Dun Ban (Stone Fort / Dun)

Visited: September 6, 2019

Rising above the cliffs, just under a kilometre southwest of Dun a'Chleirich, stand the rudimentary remains of Dun Ban, a striking promontary fort. The dun stood on the summit of a largely grass-covered rock rising steeply above the clifftops and connected to the land on its northwest by a narrow rocky ridge that has the appearance of having been artificially strengthened. From its summit, Dun Ban plunges steeply towards the sea, with just the footings of the stone wall that once surrounded it remaining.

Although only a short distance from Dun a'Chleirich, the thick bracken that plagues the clifftops here makes a direct approach towards Dun Ban well nigh impossible. The best approach is to start from the same parking spot beside the wooden shack then walk down the road for about 10 minutes to a prominent farmhouse and barn on the left.

Just a few metres down the service road here, a gate on the right leads into the field and onward towards the dun, which is now a prominent feature on the coast. Make your way to the bottom of the field where your progress is arrested by a high fence. Follow the fence to the left and you will soon encounter a metal gate. Go through the gate, follow a rough path down to the stream, step across, then follow another rough path up the grassy approach to Dun Ban.

Dun a'Chleirich (Stone Fort / Dun)

Visited: September 6, 2019

Dun a'Chleirich is a promontory fortification on the south coast of Sleat. Driving west, the starting point is at a small parking area on the left side of the road (white marker), just beside a dilapidated wooden hut, approximately 3.75 kilometres west of the community of Ardvasar, at NG 6029 0112.

Here, a convenient gate leads into a large grassy field. Enter the field and follow its boundary fence to the left (east) then down towards the coast to where a second gate leads left to the bracken-infested coastal strip. A walkers' path continues from here, bearing left, past Dun a'Chleirich (which is initially out of sight) to the shore. Though largely concealed by bracken, it was just possible to find a rough path up the northwestern side to the summit of the dun (blue marker).

At this time of the year, Dun a'Chleirich is almost completely clothed by a rampant growth of bracken about a metre tall. Only on its western flank was the bedrock exposed, so any structural elements had to be searched for.

During the climb up on to the dun I had to step over some sizeable blocks that were presumably part of the dilapidated wall that still surrounds most of the structure, and a few metres father on, some blocks that I took to be of the inner wall facing. But the summit was devoid of features.

However, on the northeastern flank of the summit, after clearing some of the bracken, it was clear that there still remain significant remnants of a wall. At the point I investigated, the wall was chest high and up to six courses in height. I daresay that in spring, before the bracken has sprouted, significantly more structure would be apparent.

Skail (Broch)

Visited: June 19, 2019

Situated in a field to the west of the Strathnaver road, and exactly a half kilometre north of the more famous Skail chambered cairn, stands a tall, elongated knoll which supports the remains of Skail broch.

Canmore refers to 'several stones in sufficient numbers to suggest an encircling wall which has been almost completely obliterated' round the periphery, although, perhaps because of the lush vegetation, these were not in evidence.

There is no tumble of masonry downhill, and it seems entirely likely that any stonework from the broch would have been robbed for the construction of the nearby farm and its outbuildings.

A small car-park is conveniently situated just 70 metres south of Skail Farm.

Cnoc Na Cairidh (Stone Fort / Dun)

Visited: June 25, 2019

Rising steeply on the east bank of the Bay River, at the point where it debouches into Loch Bay, stand the remains of a small dun. Little in the way of structure remains: boulders just peeping from the turf on the seaward side hint at a possible defensive wall, as does a line of largely buried boulders curving round the eastern flank. Otherwise, this is just a grassy mound, falling steeply to the north and west, but down easy slopes elsewhere.

To access this site, head north from Fairy Bridge on the B886 for almost exactly 3 kilometres where, at NG272544, an unsugnposted, unclassified road leads off to the left towards the tiny community of Bay. Follow this road for about 600 metres to its end, where there is space to park. A gate leads to a path down to the coast. You can either follow the coastline, or head directly over easy grassy terrain towards Cnoc Na Cairidh.

Ballone, Mybster (Broch)

Visited: June 18, 2019

At Ballone, Mybster, just east of Westerdale, stands a huge grass-covered mound, almost four metres tall and measuring 37×41 metres in size. The mound sits in a field, immediately adjacent to the road to Westerdale, with a convenient gate giving access, and is believed to contain the remains of a plarform bearing a broch.

In truth there is little to remark upon. The mound suffered quarrying on its northeast flank when the road was built, and this has revealed a significant stretch of drystone walling that could well be part of the broch's wall. On the southern flank, almost hidden by tall grass, a line of stones could be the footings of a wall.

Dun Mhaigh (Broch)

Visited: June 19, 2019

On heading west across the Far North of Scotland, the frequency of brochs—which pepper Caithness in their hundreds—dwindles to a mere handful west of Strathnaver. Probably the best known is the magnificent Dun Dornaigil in Strathmore, but for the intrepid enthusiast there's another that surpasses even this: Dun Mhaigh above the head of the Kyle of Tongue.
Despite the fact that Dun Mhaigh has seen much better days, the structure of this Iron Age broch still exhibits many features of interest. There is a well proportioned entrance passage in the east, five metres long, which, although missing some of its lintels, still boasts a fine lintelled doorway at each end and a guard cell. And round to the north is a neat intra-mural stair which would have accessed a second level. Though the interior of the broch is full of fallen masonry, the walls still stand a dozen and more courses tall round much of the structure.

To reach Dun Mhaigh, head west on the A838 into Tongue on the north Sutherland coast. At the point where this road hairpins right towards the causeway across Kyle of Tongue (signposted 'Durness'), head left along a good single track road for about five miles, round the head of the kyle until you bridge a river, then turn sharp right (heading back up the kyle). The only decent parking place (blue marker on the map above) is on the left left-hand verge just past this bridge, where there is space for two or three vehicles.

Note: Please do not park in a passing place as this hinders free movement of local traffic.

From here, Dun Mhaigh, which you might have spotted up on the ridge above the road during your drive in, is about 450 metres away, but you can't actually see it because of an intervening rise in the terrain. Best walk back along the road (to the yellow marker 'S' on the map) when all is revealed. The broch sits at an altitude of about 90 metres up a ridge, defended on its west by vertical 15 metre high cliffs, and you can now head across short heather directly to it. It is well worth continuing past the broch for a bit as the view down on it towards the Kyle of Tongue is a sight worth seeing.

There's lots of detailed information about Dun Mhaich on the Canmore website.

Upper Latheron (Broch)

Visited: June 17, 2019

The first impression of Upper Latheron broch is of a ratherless featueless gassy mound. But look more closely and there is structure to be seen.

The broch sits atop a rock which is visible as an outcrop on the northeast of the site. On top of this, a neat course of large walling blocks heads west to a dip that presumably signals the location of the entrance. On the other side of the outcrop is another exposure of outer walling courses: Canmore says four courses deep though only two were visible due to the rank vegetation.

The broch stands in a field at Upper Ltheron farm, just back from the A9, two miles north of Dunbeath. There is space to park at the junction with the farm access road (no signpost) from where the broch is but a short walk away.

Knockinnon (Broch)

Visited: June 17, 2019

There's not a lot to say abut Knockinnon broch. It's just a grassy mound, although there are small exposures of stonework around the structure, hinting that a broch still lurks within.

Thrumster Mains (Broch)

Visited: June 19, 2019

This broch at Thrumster Mains has endured a chequered past, principally in the late 19th century, when its court was cleared and the stones of its southern arc were excavated and used to build a rectangular 'Summer House'. Thankfully, the broch is well cared for nowadays and walling up to eight courses high in places now stands at least a metre tall around the remainder of the circumference, with both the inner and outer faces mainly intact.

The broch sits on a low grass-covered ridge in the gronds of Thrumster Mains, in which, at the time of my visit, wide paths had been carefully mowed to make access easier. The broch is now tastefully landscaped as part of an ornamental garden.

The broch was originally believed to be solid based, with its entrance at the location where the summer house now stands, but the most recent excavation (in 2011) discovered both an infilled entrance passage on the northwest, and infilled galleries. Steps leading down into a gallery have also come to light.

Claigan (Dun Breac) (Stone Fort / Dun)

Visited: June 25, 2019

One of the tourist attractions on Skye are the so-called Coral Beaches. But just a short walk from the car park that serves them are two megalithic relics, Clagain Dun and Clagain Souterrain.

To visit the dun, head away from the coast (east) along a well defined farm road for a shade over 500 metres, where you arrive at a metal gate. On your left ia an extensive stone-built sheep fank, and on the rise beyond the gate stand the remains of Clagain. Canmore states that "Most of the stone was robbed between 1824 and 1836 to build the sheep fank ... and some stone may also have been used in the construction of Claigan farm house and garden".

There is not a great deal to enthuse the visitor here, although grassy ramparts hint at a few buried walling courses and a few larger blocks line a breach in the structure that presumably was the entrance passage.

Claigan souterrain lies a few metres across the fence that surrounds the dun on its south east, and is well worth searching for.

East Kinnauld (Broch)

Visited: June 17, 2019

Stout footwear (preferably boots) is recommended for a visit to East Kinnauld broch. Although the 100 metre ascent starts along a grassy path, the final ascent is up a steep slope clad in grass and bracken. The broch itself is largely a jumble of tumbled masonry with no external walling courses in evidence although the entrance is clear to see.

That notwithstanding, there is a considerable amount of structure remaining to the discerning eye. A sizeable exposure of internal walling courses still stands, and you can still trace an intramural gallery arcing through the debris and disappearing behind this walling under a small triangular lintel. Adjacent to the entrance passage is a well proportioned guard cell.

And the views over Strath Fleet from this veritable eyrie are simply breath-taking.

Carn na Mairg (Carn Merk)

Visited: June 20, 2019

Carn na Mairg stands on the east bank of the River Thurso, just under a kilometre south from Westerdale. There is an excellent access path which starts 80 metres east of the bridge over the river Thurso. A new dwelling, painted blue-green, stands on your left as you walk across a concrete area to a tall fence. Pass through the gate in this fence and follow the path to the broch. The walking is excellent and the broch soon comes into view.

Carn na Mairg is a grassy mound standing at the very edge of the river. On its eastern flank, a large area of the broch wall is internittently exposed to a height of some fifteen or so courses. There is a well built entrance portal and passage on the southeast, though it was badly overgrown by nettles and on the east are the remains of defensive outworks.

But there is little to see of the interior of the broch, which is almost totally infilled. The only feature is a short section of a mural gallery which is exposed to show the neat walling courses on its inner side.

Tulach an Fhuarain (Broch)

Visited:June 20, 2019

The third of a close group of three broch mounds on the bank of the River Thurso in Westerdale, Caithness, Tulach an Fhuarain is a featureless, fenced off grassy mound. It stands cheek by jowl with Tulach Lochain Bhraseil, just 50 metres to its northeast.

Tulach Lochain Bhraseil (Broch)

Visited: June 20, 2019

There's not a lot to say about Tulach Lochain Bhraseil except that it is a grassy mound lying 250 metres northwest of Tulach Buaile a'Chroic Broch in Westerdale, Caithness.

Although it is understood that a broch lurks beneath the mound, absolutely no broch-like features are to be seen.

On top of the mound stands a recent man-made structure.

Achvarasdal (Broch)

Revisited: June 18, 2019

I revisited Achvarasdal broch once more and was impressed by the improvements made since a year previously.

The entrance passage and the central court of the structure have been cleared of weeds, particularly plants of giant hogweed, and are now tastefully laid out with pink gravel chippings to create a much more pleasant visitor experience.

Members of tbe Caithness Broch Project and Caithness Countryside Volunteers are to be congratulated on their efforts, which include installing layers of geo-textile to inhibit future regrowth.

But the battle is not completely over as a number of mature hogweed plants were spotted within a few metres of the broch wall on the northwest. Hopefully work will continue to achieve total eradication of this dangerous, invasive species.

Broch Clean-up
You can read about the clean-up process in these articles from The John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier on April 4, 2019 and April 24, 2019

Tulach Buaile a'Chroic (Broch)

Visited: June 20, 2019

One of a cluster of broch mounds in Westerdale, Caithness, Tulach Buaile a'Chroic though rather bland in itself, stands in an attractive location on the bank of the River Thurso.

It has been reduced to a grass-covered mound some 3.5 metres tall, with only the minimalist evidence of masonry. A number of stones protrude from the upper southwest side of the structure, and may be remnants of a foundation course, while there is a small exposure of larger blocks on the northwest flank.

Not a broch to rave about, but the ambiance of the setting is undeniable.

Caisteal na Coille (Broch)

Visited: June 17, 2019

North of Loch Bora, on the lip of a gorge on the Blackwater River, stands a hidden gem of a broch, Caisteal na Coille, sometimes dubbed 'Castle Cole'. For the determined walker it would be possible to set out from the same starting point as for Carrol Broch broch. But this would mean a round trip of some 28 kilometres.

I decided to investigate a shorter alternative by driving through Brora where, immediately north of the River Brora, a minor road signposted 'Balnacoil' heads northwest, hugging the eastern shore of Loch Brora for 13 kilometres (8 miles). Your target is a left-hand bend on the road from which an estate road (marked by two prominent boulders, one on either side) heads to the right into a patch of woodland. There may be space for verge parking for a couple of cars here. If not, you should be able to park close to the bridge (red marker) over the River Brora, 700 metres farther on.

The estate road (yellow track on the map below) provides easy walking for just under 4 kilometres, by which time you should be level with the broch (white marker on map).

As you near your target, you will see ahead a small stand of a dozen or so mature trees just to the right of the track. By now you will see the broch and must make a decision on the best point to leave the track and start crossing towards the broch. I found no evidence of any footpath leading from the road to the broch and surmise that this is simply because it is so rarely visited.

Now comes the hard bit, crossing some 300 metres of blanket bog, firstly downhill, followed by a climb up to the mound supporting the broch. But the effort is certainly worth it ...

Caisteal na Coille stands within an almost level grassy platform on the summit of a small hill that drops vertically into the valley of the Black Water, the northern tributary of the River Brora. The broch is constructed from rectangular sandstone slabs rising to at least a dozen courses at the entrance and twenty or more on its eastern side. On the western flank, which falls down to the river as a cliff, the walling is rudimentary (unless, of course, it was never more than a low boundary wall, since an approach from that quarter would be deemed impossible?)

The entrance is capped by a massive, roughly triangular lintel not dissimilar to those at Dun Dornaigil in Sutherland and Caisteal Grugaig in Glenelg, and leads to an entrance passage almost four metres long. To the east of the entrance lies a large guard cell, now uncapped, and the rampart beyond it shows indications of an intramural gallery. A striking feature of the internal walls of Caisteal na Coille is the number of cupboard recesses on display.

This broch is very much one for the connaisseur, and a visit to it is an experience to be treasured.

Further information relating to this structure can be viewed on the Canmore website.

Whitegate (Broch)

Visited: June 18, 2019

The Caithness village of Keiss can boast three brochs in its vicinity: Keiss South (K), Whitegate (W) and Kirk Tofts (T).

Whitegate is a probable solid-based broch, located on the shore northeast of the village of Keiss and about 175 metres farther on than Keiss South broch (marker 'W' on the map below). It is totally ruinous and was overgrown with long grass at the time of my visit.

All that there is to be seen are a few stretches of walling courses, an entrance passage and a chamber set back in the walling opposite the entrance passage.

There is a considerable amount of additional information on the Canmore website, particularly with respect to recent excavations at the site.

Nybster (Broch)

Visited: June 18, 2019

Nybster broch stands on a cliff-girt headland, protected on three sides by vertical sandstone cliffs and by a ditch that cuts off the promontory on its landward side.

The site is signposted just south of the village of Nybster, and there is a car park from which a good footpath heads south for 450 metres to the broch site. As you approach the broch, the first thing you will see is Mervyn's Tower, a monument built of rough stones by local farmer John Nicholson to commemorate the work of Sir Francis Tress Barry who excavated the site in 1895-6.

Canmore states that Nybster is: 'a site of major signifcance in the study of the development of the broch in that it comprises the ground-galleried block-house of a pre-broch promontory fort, a solid-based broch, and a post-broch settlement. The block-house, which displays broch-like features, including a passage checked for two doors, is probably to be dated not much before the first century BC if not within it'.

Without doubt, Nybster is a complex side, and readers wishing to learn more about it can find copious details of the various structures and finds on the Canmore website.

Kirk Tofts (Broch)

Visited: June 18, 2019
The Caithness village of Keiss can boast three brochs in its vicinity: Keiss South (K), Whitegate (W) and Kirk Tofts (T).

Kirk Tofts broch is situated immediately behind Keiss cemetery, on the A99 immediately north of the village (marker 'T' on the map below). There is ample parking for the visitor in front of the graveyard.

My first impression of the area was of a field thick with ferns, nettles and rampant vegetation, and I could make little progress through it. Returning to my car, I recalled that my hillwalking gear was in the boot, and fitted out with sturdy boots and gaiters, and a walking pole for balance, I returned to the broch.

My initial view was hardly inspiring. After negotiating the field of nettles, I saw ahead a section of drystone walling which I initially took to be a mere remnant of a destroyed broch. But I pressed on, and on reaching this wall, realised that it was an exposed section of the outer wall of the broch, with a well defined entrance passage. Even though this wall must have been close to two metres tall, I did not realise that there was an entrance passage through it until I was right beside it as it was completely concealed by rank vegetation both in front of and within it!

Once through the entranceway, most of the interior is defined by walling many courses high, and generally close to two metres tall. Unfortunately, thick vegetation, mainly rampant ferns growing everywhere, undoubtedly conceals many of the finer points of construction. According to Canmore there is much to see at Kirk Tofts, including two intra mural stairways, but these were not evident to me. Doubtless a visit in early spring, before plant growth has commenced, would prove more rewarding.

When visiting the site, great care should be taken as the terrain is everywhere very uneven beneath the all-concealing vegetation. A walking pole is a valuable asset in maintaining balance.

For those interested, the Canmore website provides a wealth of information relating to the structure of Kirk Tofts broch, the finds discovered within it and the various phases of its occupation, describing it as: 'one of the best examples of a 1st phase broch (1st centuries BC and AD), re-used during the Broch II phase (2nd, 3rd centuries AD) and again during the post-broch era'.
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A keen hillwalker most of my life, my interest was restricted when the need arose to care for an ageing parent.

With limited opportunities to travel far from home, I 'discovered' the world of stone circles, mainly in my native Aberdeenshire.

This provided the ideal opportunity for short walks of just a few hours duration, and resulted in me visiting many places of interest that I had never considered previously.

Stone Circles of NE Scotland
Here you will find both Google and Bing maps displaying more than 100 sites of stone circles, the majority in my native Aberdeenshire. The markers on the maps are clickable, to reveal a photo of the stone circle and a link to their Canmore Site Record.

A menu at the side of the maps allows you to zoom in to any individual circle, viewing its environs as a zoomable aerial photograph (Google) or an OS Map (Bing).

I've since extended my interest to the megalithic remains in The Netherlands, where there are some magnificent passage graves known as hunebedden (giant's beds). Despite the fact that The Netherlands is essentially flat and sandy, these 5000 year old monuments from the Funnel Beaker Culture are often found in exquisite woodland settings, nearly all of them in the province of Drenthe. There are almost limitless opportunities for delightful walks between small villages, taking in a diversion to a hunebed here and there.

My TMA Content: