Isle of Albion
Iron Age broch village on the edge of Orkney.
Photographed: Wednesday 1st May 2013
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The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village, situated on the north coast of Mainland Orkney, dating back to around 100-200BC. It was discovered by the Orcadian poet and antiquarian, Robert Rendall. While sketching the covered mound, one of the legs of his stool sank into the ground. Upon investigating further, he uncovered a staircase leading downwards into the earth.

Originally standing at around 8 metres in height, with an internal diameter of around 20 metres, the central tower of the broch would have been an imposing and impressive structure. With walls up to 4 metres thick, and three circling bands of ramparts and ditches, it would also have been easily defended.

Sitting between the broch and the outer defences were a number of stone buildings, forming a tight cluster of living accommodation that would have been home to around 40 families. These houses contained hearths, stone furniture and latrines, and featured attached yards and storage sheds, lending the ruins a domestic theme familiar to modern visitors.

The broch itself was approached via an entrance causeway accessed from the eastern side of the settlement. It was lined with houses, creating a narrow corridor which must have offered further intimidation to anyone hoping to attack the broch.

The settlement was abandoned around 100AD, and its upper levels dismantled - presumably to provide stone for later buildings. The surrounding settlement was similarly mined for materials over the years, leaving only low-lying foundations visible in the present day. The central broch, however, still survives to a height of around 3.5 metres, offering a good impression of how it would originally have looked.

Sitting on the windswept coast of Mainland Orkney, looking out over the waters of the Eynhallow Sound with dramatic views towards the island of Rousay, the Broch of Gurness commands a stunning location. The weather changes quickly here, and the mood is one of a settlement clinging to the edge of the world - indeed, a goodly part of the northern portion of the settlement has long since fallen into the sea.

Wandering the ruins of the broch, it is easy to imagine an earlier people scraping an existence in this remote corner of the British isles. With a strong gale blowing, it is still possible to gain a sense of the respite that our ancestors must have felt stepping into the warm and sheltered confines of a stone-built dwelling. Even today, the walls of the broch provide a break from the wind, connecting us down the years with the ancient people who once lived here.