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

Garrywhin Fort, Ulbster, Caithness

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – ND 312 414

Getting Here

Going up the A99, just as your approaching Ulbster, take the left turn where the phone box is and go up the track for about a mile towards Watenan house.  A few hundred yards before here, three walls meet: follow the walling to the NW, past the nearby Cairn of Get and Garrywhin Stone Rows.  You’ll walk right into the fort!

Archaeology & History

This is a gigantic old hillfort, surrounded on all sides by a mass of prehistoric remains from the neolithic and Bronze Age periods.  But the fort itself is mainly Iron Age.  It occupies the summit of a broad ridge of land with 3, possibly 4 entrances and surrounded by bog-land.  It measures 590 feet north-to-south and up to 200 feet wide at its greatest diameter.  The stone walling averages some 8 feet wide around the fort and its entrances are lined with large slabs of stone.

Folklore

The local folklore writer George Sutherland (1937) told that the cliffs on the western edge of this large hillfort were haunted and under the protection of supernatural guardians.  One tale he narrated told of,

“a young man (who) happened to be at Garrywhin one day. He met a mysterious stranger there. The stranger asked him to look at the cliff and to tell him if he saw anything unusual. He looked and saw nothing unusual in the cliff. The stranger then gave him a pencil with a small glass in one end…and bade him look at the cliff through the glass. He did so, and to his horror he saw a large hairy beast slowly climbing up the perpendicular face of rock as a fly would walk up a pane of glass in a window. He got frightened and fled. To his dying day he believed that the strange man and the big hairy beast were creatures not of this world.”

There is also the curious folktale about powerful whisky attached to some characters by the Garrywhin Fort!

Many years after the fort had been constructed, a man and his son came to live on the southern end of the hill. They made a living selling their own brand of whisky, and a special kind of beer to local people. Local people were perplexed as to how the two could make such drinks, as they grew no barley or any other kind of grain, so the reputation soon gathered that they used supernatural means. The two men declared simply that their drinks were made from simple plants, but kept their methods secret. But the local folk wanted to know just how they made it so strong and so ended up threatening them for their secrets.

As George Sutherland wrote:

“It was known to everyone that dealt with them that they had a cave in the face of precipice in which they did their work unseen by any eyes but their own, and in which they stored their goods. Owing to some magical contrivance, no one – apart from the old man and his son – could find the entrance into the cave. Every device that ingenuity could suggest was tried on the old man and his son to induce them to reveal their secret, but in vain. At last they threatened them with death. The old man said to them, “If I should tell you, my son would kill me for doing so; kill my son and then I shall think over the matter.” They killed his son. The old man then said to them, “Now, kill me also; no on else knows our secret, and it will die with me.” They killed him, and so the secret remained a secret.

“Every inch of the face of the precipice, and of the adjacent ground, was scrutinised and tested over and over again, but no trace of the cave, or of the heather whisky and the heather ale stored in it, was ever found.”

References:

  1. Sutherland, George, Folklore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John o’ Groats Journal: Wick 1937.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.355391, -3.176507 Garrywhin Fort