Dun Osdale, Dunvegan, Skye

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NG 24162 46424

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 10832

Getting Here

Dun Osdale, by the roadside

From the A863 Dunvegan road, a mile south of the village turn onto the B884 road at Lonmore, making sure you veer right after a few hundred yards and head towards Glendale.  About a mile along, on the left-hand side of the road, note the small rocky crag that begins to grow just above the roadside.  At the end of this crag you’ll see a huge pile of rocks, seemingly tumbling down, just by a small T-junction to Uiginish.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Listed as one of the duns, or fortified prehistoric structures in Skye by the old writer J.A. MacCulloch (1905), the rediscovery of this broch was, said A.A. MacGregor (1930), one that “became historical only within living memory.”  I find that hard to believe!  The Gaelic speakers hereby merely kept their tongues still when asked, as was common in days of olde—and it was a faerie abode….

Looking at the SW walling

Looking at the SE walls

Once you go through the gate below the broch, the large boggy area you have to circumnavigate is the overflow from an ancient well, known as Tobar na Maor, where Anne Ross said, “tradition that the stewards of three adjacent properties met there.”  This well was covered by an ancient Pictish stone (now in Dunvegan Castle), which may originally have been associated with the broch just above it.  When I visited the site with Aisha and Her clan, we passed the overgrown well and walked straight up to the broch.

Despite being ruinous it is still most impressive.  The massive walling on its southwestern side is still intact in places; but you don’t get a real impression of the work that went into building these structures until you’re on top.  The walls themselves are so thick and well-built that you puzzle over the energy required to build so massive a monument.  And Scotland has masses of them!

Aisha in the broch

Small internal chamber

The site was surveyed briefly when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1877, subsequently highlighting it on the first OS-map of the area.  But it didn’t receive any archaeocentric assessment until the Royal Commission (1928) lads explored the area some fifty years later.  In their outstanding Inventory of the region they described Dun Osdale in considerable detail, although kept their description purely architectural in nature, betraying any real sense of meaning and history which local folk must have told them.  They wrote:

“The outer face of the wall of the broch for a great part is reduced to the lower courses, but on the west-southwest a section still maintains a height of about 7 feet; on the south-side, although hidden by fallen stones, it is about 4 to 5 feet high, and on the northeast there is a very short section 3 feet in height.  The stones are of considerable size and laid in regular courses.  In the interior a mass of tumbled stone obscures the most of the inner face of the wall, but on the south and northwest it stands about 8 feet above the debris.  The broch is circular with an internal diameter of 35 feet to 35 feet 6 inches, and the wall thickens from 10 feet on the north to 13 feet 7 inches on the south. The entrance, which is one the east, is badly broken down, but near the inside has a width of 3 feet 2 inches, and appears to have been 2 feet 10 inches on the outside; it has run straight through the wall without checks.  In the thickness of the wall to the south of the entrance is an oval chamber measuring 10 feet long by 4 feet 9 inches broad above the debris with which it is half-filled.  The roof has fallen in, but the internal corbelling of the walls is well displayed.  The fallen stones no doubt still cover the entrance, which has probably been from the interior.  Within the western arc of the wall, nearly opposite the main doorway, is another oval cell 12 feet in length and 4 feet 6 inches in breadth over debris, with a doorway 2 feet 9 inches wide; its outer and inner walls are 5 feet 9 inches, and 2 feet 6 inches respectively.  The roof od this chamber has also collapsed, but from the masonry which remains in position it must have been over 6 feet in height.  Immediately to the west of the cell near the entrance are exposed the left jamb of a door and a short length of a gallery 3 feet 6 inches wide in the thickness of the southern wall, which probably contained the stairs, as traces of a gallery at a higher level than the oval chambers are seen here, the inner wall being about 3 feet and the outer 8 feet thick. Parts of a scarcement 9 inches wide can be detected on the northwestern and southeastern arcs.”

Dun Osdale plan (RCAHMS 1928)

Dun Osdale on 1881 map

Measurements and architectural tedium aside, the broch is worthwhile for anyone interested in our ancient mythic past, not least because of its position in the landscape and its visual relationship with other sites of the same period nearby.  As well as that, there are unrecorded ancient sites still hiding in these olde moors…

Folklore

Tradition tells that Dun Osdale was used as a watch-tower by the tribal folk—which seems quite credible.  But the original inhabitants of Duirinish, the sith or fairy folk, were also said to live here.  It’s one of several places in Duirinish where the legendary Fairy Cup of Dunvegan was said to have come from.  Otta Swire (1961) told its tale:

“One midsummer night a MacLeod, searching for strayed cattle, stayed late on the moor.  In the moonlight he saw the door of Dun Osdale open and the little people come out, a long train of them, and began to dance on the green grass knoll nearby.  Fascinated, he watched, forgetting everything but the wonderful dance. Suddenly he sneezed.  The spell was broke.  The dance stopped.  MacLeod sprang up to fly, but the fairies were upon him and he was dragged, willy-nilly, into the dun.  Inside, as soon as his eyes grew accustomed to that strange green light associated with fairyland, he beheld a pleasing sight.  A great banquet was spread on a large table carved from a single tree: on it were vessels of gold and silver, many of them set with jewels or chased in strange designs.  His fairy ‘hosts’ led him to the table, poured wine into one of the beautiful cups and, giving it to him, invited him to toast their chief.  Now this man’s mother was a witch, so he knew well that if he ate or drank in the dun he was in the Daoine Sithe’s power for ever.  He lifted the cup and appeared to drink the required toast, but in fact skilfully let the wine run down inside his coat.  As soon as his neighbours saw the cup was half empty, they ceased to bother about him but went off on their own affairs or to attend the banquet.  Thereafter MacLeod watched for a chance of escape and, when one offered, slipped quietly through the door of the dun and away, carrying the cup with him.

“The fairies soon realised what had happened and started in pursuit, but he was already across the Osdale river and in safety.  He hurried home, told his mother the story, and showed her the cup.  Being a wise woman she realised the peril in which he undoubtedly stood and at once put her most powerful spell upon him to protect him from the arts of the Daoine Sithe, warning him seriously never to leave the house for a moment without getting the spell renewed.  But she forgot to put a protecting spell upon the cup also.  The fairies soon discovered the exact state of affairs and immediately laid their own spell upon the cup, a spell so powerful that all who saw the cup or even heard of it, were seized with an overmastering desire to possess it, even if such possession involved the murder of the holder.

“For a year, all went well and thanks to his mother’s care the young man went unharmed.  Then he grew careless and one day ventured out without the protecting spell.  A one-time friend, bewitched by the cup, had been awaiting just such a chance and immediately murdered him and went off with the prize.  The fairies, their revenge achieved, took no further interest in the matter, but MacLeod of MacLeod did.  The boy’s mother hurried to him with her story, and he at once gave orders that the murderer be found and brought to justice.  He was duly hanged and the trouble-making cup, now free of enchantment, passed into the possession of the chief and can still be seen in (Dunvegan) castle.”

References:

  1. Donaldson-Blyth, Ian, In Search of Prehistoric Skye, Thistle: Insch 1995.
  2. MacCulloch, J.A.,  The Misty Isle of Skye, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier: Edinburgh 1905.
  3. MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, Over the Sea to Skye, Chambers: Edinburgh 1930.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles, HMSO: Edinburgh 1928.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

Acknowledgements:  Eternally grateful to the awesome Aisha Domleo and Her little clan for getting us to this ancient haven on Skye’s endless domain of natural beauty.  Without Her, this would not have been written.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.424152, -6.596830 Dun Osdale

Baile Mhargaite, Bettyhill, Sutherland

Broch: OS Grid Reference – NC 69742 60973

Highlighted on 1878 OS-map

Highlighted on 1878 OS-map

Also Known as:

  1. Ca an Duin
  2. Canmore ID 5786
  3. Invernaver
  4. Lochan Druim An Duin
  5. Sandy Dun

Getting Here

Baile Mhargaite broch from below

Baile Mhargaite broch from below

Take the A836 road west through Bettyhill and downhill, turning right and going over the small bridge at the bottom. From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large rise ahead of you and, to the left (west) a burn tumbles down from the hills above. Walk up it and head to the rocky rise on the level 50 yards past the burn. You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Once you’ve clambered the rocky hill to reach the broch, you’ll be damn impressed. This is a real beauty – although from the outside it looks nothing of the sort. The outer wall is a veritable jumbled mass of rocks piled on top of each other in a manner that looks as if human hands once fumbled them in some sort of order, long since fallen away. Around the western side of the structure, faint remains of steps lead up towards more ordered-looking walling ahead of you. Before you walk up the remains of steps, notice the more structured walling, about three feet high to your right, curving around the large structure you are already inside the edges of.

Whether you walk up the stepped remains or simply up the outer walling, once you see the internal stone walling of this high cliff broch, you’ll be impressed. It’s a big bugger – and in damn good condition when you consider that it’s probably 2000 years old, or more! A large round walled structure, about three feet high all round, well sheltered from the wind and rains, measures some 30 feet across.Arc of outer western wall

The internal living quarters

The internal living quarters

Eastern section of the broch

Eastern section of the broch

The site is still known by some local people as a “Pictish Tower” and was described as such on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map (see above) and its Gaelic name is Ca an Duin(Mackay 1906).  The probability of the brochs as being Pictish in origin is more than likely.  Tradition up here speaks of them as such – and we know that such traditions go back many centuries in these isolated areas.  An early mention of this Pictish Tower was given in James Horsburgh’s (1870) essay, but it wasn’t described in any real detail until the Royal Commission (1911) fellas looked at the site.  They wrote:

“On the summit of the hill which rises to the W of the gravelly plateau opposite Bettyhill, and on the N side of the track which leads from Strathnaver to Torrisdail, is situated a broch.  It is called the “Sandy Dun”.  The wall is probably erect for a considerable height, but the interior is largely filled up with blown sand.  The entrance is from the SW.  The interior diameter is 29 feet and the thickness of the wall 12 feet.  Near the top of the wall in the interior is a projecting ledge, about 10 feet wide, running all around.  The slabs which form it are an integral part of the structure and the wall is thicker below than above.  The outer face of the wall is much ruined…”

Gazing NE from inside the broch

Gazing NE from inside the broch

Although some of the internal walling has been taken away since the 1911 survey, the interior of the site has been cleaned up by local people and it is presently in a very good condition indeed.  The broch may have been built onto an earlier fortified structure, rising above the stunning prehistoric settlements and necropolis on the sandy plateau immediately below. It would make sense – as many earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age remains look up at the prominent rock pinnacle it’s built upon from the sandy plain below, almost as if it was a natural temple in the animistic traditions of the earlier peoples.

If you visit this gorgeous region, the Baile Mhargaite broch should definitely be on your list of sites to see.

Folklore

Old lore told that this broch was attacked by outside invaders many centuries ago.   Mr Horsburgh (1870) told that,

“an old woman hid a croc of gold previous to the dun being attacked, and measured the distance from it with a clew of thread.”

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  2. Mackay, Angus, “Notes on a Slab with Incised Crescentic Design, Stone Mould for Casting Bronze Spear-Heads, a Cup-Marked Stone, Holy Water Stoup, and other Antiquities in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, 1906.
  3. MacKie, E W., The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC-AD 500 – volume 2, British Archaeological Report: Oxford 2007.
  4. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockfird, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  5. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

Acknowledgements:  Immense thanks go to Aisha Domleo and Unabel Gordon for their help getting me up here.  This site profile would not exist without their encouragement.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.517348, -4.237922 Baile Mhargaite Broch

Borgie Farmhouse, Tongue, Sutherland

Broch (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NC 675 594

Archaeology & History

A singular reference to this site appears in James Horsburgh’s (1870) early article on the prehistoric remains of Sutherland.  It seems he was on an early road-trip (or dirt-track-trip as it would have been in those days, as there were no real ‘roads’) and as his journey took him along the remote tracks in the far North, visiting places that are still intact and mentioning those which, oral tradition told, had passed into memory, local folk told him about a couple of brochs that had recently met their demise.  This was one of them.  He wrote:

“Between Farr and Tongue, after crossing the Naver Ferry… some miles on, near Borgie-farm house, there was a Pictish tower, now demolished, and on the side of the old road to Tongue, another.”

In asking the lady who lives here if she knew anything about the broch, she told that although she didn’t, she’d ask some old locals to see if they knew of any folk remnants about the place.  It would have stood a short distance above the little-known Borgie souterrain. If we receive any additional info, the site-profile will be updated. (the grid-reference for this broch is an approximation)

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again to Donna Murray for enquiring to see if any old tales remained about this long-lost site.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.502926, -4.274836 Borgie Farmhouse

Auchensalt, Thornhill, Stirlingshire

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NN 6533 0099

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24398
  2. Easter Borland
  3. Keir

Getting Here

Auchinsalt broch, looking south

Take the A873 from Thornhill to Aberfoyle, and literally 1 mile west of Thornhill turn right up the track up and past Easter Borland farm (as if you’re heading up to Auchensalt).  250 yards past the farm, a large field opens up.  Walk 100 yards east along the side of the wall towards the trees and follow the tree-line upstream 250 yards (don’t go into the lovely little glen) until, on your right, you’ll see a reasonably large area of grassland that rises up, with a steep-ish slope down to the burn below.  This is the remains of the broch.

Archaeology & History

Shown as a ‘Keir’ on the 1866 OS-map, this is an old Scottish dialect word, barely used at all nowadays (folk need to start using it again!) which meant “an ancient fortification” or “rude forts”.  The word is mentioned in early Statistical Accounts in 1795 and in the Second Account of 1845 the “Kiers at Auchinsalt” are mentioned specifically, albeit in passing….

Auchinsalt ‘Keir’ on 1866 map

When we visited the site yesterday, very little could be seen due mainly to the summer vegetation covering the area.  A very small section of open walling was noted on its western side, and beneath the undergrowth a roughly oval structure was in evidence on the rise between the edge of the field and the drop into the small glen below.  Something obviously man-made lies beneath the grasses, but in the last 100 years or so there has been debate as to whether it was a fort, a dun or a broch.  The consensus at the mo, tells Euan Mackie (2007), is that it’s a broch!

Auchinsalt broch, looking east

Measuring some 25 yards across, the walling that makes up the broch was between 4-6 feet wide all round, and about 2 feet high.  There seemed to be aggregates of large scattered stones inside and outside the main oval feature.  If there was an entrance, it seemed to be at the western side, but I wasn’t sure about this. In truth, unless you’re a hardcore broch fanatic, you’d be truly disappointed with the dilapidated state of this monument.  Much better ones can be seen just a few miles away…

References:

  1. Chrystal, William, The Kingdom of Kippen, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1903.
  2. Grant, William (ed.), The Scottish National Dictionary – volume 5, SNDA: Edinburgh 1960.
  3. MacKie, Euan W., The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC-AD 500, BAR: Oxford 2007.
  4. McCulloch, Stuart J., Thornhill and its Environs, Munro Trust: Perth 1995.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Paul Hornby for getting us here. Cheers matey!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.182442, -4.171079 Auchinsalt

Caisteal Mhic Neill, Cashlie, Glen Lyon, Perthshire

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NN 49036 41779

Also Known as:

  1. Caistealan nam Fiann

Getting Here

Caisteal Mhic Neill ruins, looking east

Truly remote, but easy to find once you’re nearing the western end of Glen Lyon. Going upstream, past Cashlie Dam, watch out for the well-preserved stone kiln on the left-hand side of the road, just before Cashlie house.  50 yards or further along, cross the road and in the field by the riverside, the circular mass of stones sorta gives the game away.

Archaeology & History

Caisteal Mhic Neill, below the hill of An Grianan

Shown on modern OS-maps as a ‘homestead’ and described variously by archaeologists and historians as a fort or a round-house, this is just one example of around twenty large prehistoric constructions that scatter the stunning mountainous Glen Lyon region which legend tells were the forts of the hero-figure, Finn.  Three other constructions of the same nature are found just a few hundred yards further up the Glen from here.  Each is of roughly the same age and nature by the look of things.  Their walls are extremely wide and made up of very large rocks, which would have taken huge efforts to construct.

Although the exact nature of the sites has yet to be academically ascertained, the Canmore website ascribes the monument as a settlement – however, tradition tells them to be forts, so we’ll stick with that until excavations tell otherwise!

The great Gaelic place-name master W.J. Watson (1912) told that:

“The fourth of the Cashlie towers is a few yards south of the road, right in front of Cashlie farmhouse, now a shooting lodge. Though a quantity of large stones marks the site, the structure has been so badly knocked about that we found it impossible to take measurements sufficient for a plan. It was, however, apparently not circular, but rather oval. Its walls appeared to vary from about 9 feet to 12 feet 6 inches in thickness.”

This is one of several other duns (or homesteads as the OS-map calls them) close to each other.

Folklore

Close-up of Caisteal walling

Ascribed as one of Glen Lyon’s Caisteilean nam Fiann, or “castles of the Fiann”, Mr Watson (1912) again told how “there is a widely known saying, the earliest notice of which occurs in Pennant, who got it doubtless from the Rev. J. Stewart:

‘…Twelve castles had Fionn,
In the dark Bent-glen of the stones.'”

References:

  1. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  2. Watson, W.J., “The Circular Forts of North Perthshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 47, 1912.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:  Many thanks to Andy Sweet of Stravaiging Around Scotland, for pointing me to the W.J. Watson article.  And of course, a huge thanks to Marion—”I don’t have a clue where I am!”—Woolley, for getting us here….

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.543675, -4.456915 Caisteal Mhic Neill

Bruan Broch, Caithness, Scotland

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – ND 31028 39501

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 8934

Archaeology & History

It seems there’s not been a lot of archaeohistory written about this ruined site — nor its companion that was once visible 50 yards to the west.  In Richard Feachem’s (1977) gazetteer he described it simply as:

“a turf-covered stony mound some 10ft in height, standing in the middle of an enclosure formed by a ditch with a wall on its inner lip, which is best preserved on the west.”

Folklore

A common aspect of faerie-lore are incidences of apparent time-lapses — beloved in modern times in certain UFO encounters (Vallee 1969; Keel 1970).  Such was the case here, in the story described at this ruinous old site by George Sutherland (1937).  He wrote:

“Two men carrying a small keg of whiskey for the New Year festivities were passing the church of Bruan. They heard stirring bagpipe music and a few hundred yards further on they came to the Bruan Broch and found it open, and saw a number of the little folk in green dancing merrily to the music. One of the men was eager to join them in the dance and went in. The other man was more cautious and remained outside, and waited patiently until his friend would have his dance. A long weary time passed and his friend was not appearing. He went to the open door of the broch and called to his friend to come out. His friend said, “I have not got a dance yet!” After another long wait he shouldered the keg of whiskey and set out for home, never doubting but that his friend would return home before morning. Next day he called at his friend’s house to see if he had come home, and to his consternation found that he had not. Then he went to the broch in the hope of finding him there, but the broch showed no trace of a door, and no trace or soil or stones having been disturbed since the days of King Brude MacBile, and there was no appearance of man or fairy. It was an old belief that in such a case the same scene would be enacted in the same place in a year after, and accordingly on the anniversary of that day he went to the Bruan Broch. It was open, the music and dancing were going on as before, and his friend was there. He put some iron article in the door to prevent the fairies from closing it… He went to the open door and said to his friend, “Are you not coming home now?” His friend replied, “I have not got a dance yet.” He told his friend that he had been a year in the broch, and that it was surely time for him to come home now, but his friend did not believe that he was more than an hour or so there. The man then made a rush at his friend, seized him, and dragged him out by sheer force, and they set out for home together. It was difficult for him to realise that his sojourn with the fairies was such a prolonged one, but the fact that his own child did not recognise him, together with other changes that had taken place, convinced him.”

References:

  1. Feachem, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  2. Keel, John A., UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Souvenir Press: London 1970.
  3. Sutherland, George, Folklore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John-o-Groats Journal: Wick 1937.
  4. Vallee, Jacques, Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers, H.Regnery: Chicago 1969.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.338593, -3.179705 Bruan Broch