Isle of Lewis: Dun Carloway Broch

Next on our tour of Isle of Lewis in Scotland, we visited Dun Carloway Broch (Dun Charlabhaigh). This is one of the best preserved Iron Age brochs in Scotland. What is a broch, you might wonder. It's a dwelling constructed during the last few centuries BC. Dun Carloway is believed to have been one of the last constructed, in the last century BC. Brochs had been used for centuries before then and they are found all over western and northern Scotland from Sutherland and Caithness, Orkney, Shetland, Isle of Skye, Barra, various other islands of the Hebrides, and on the western mainland too. We later stayed at a B&B near Dornie and the owner told us about a broch nearby that I'd never heard of. I definitely want to visit that one in the future.

When we arrived at Dun Carloway, it was raining again, a bit more heavily than it had at Callanish, which I covered in the post last week. We put up the hoods of our rain jackets and hurried up the hill toward the broch. It's hard to take photos in the rain because I always fear my camera will get too wet. Also drops get on the lens and distort the photos.

Brochs are interesting architecturally because they are built with two concentric walls fastened together by banks of stone slabs to form a series of internal galleries and stairs. In other words, the stairs are in between the walls. Some believe these were fortifications where extended families could go inside for protection during invasions. Others believe they were simply impressive homes for prominent families. The construction would've protected them in winter from the harsh wind and rain of the islands. It is believed farm animals were kept on the ground floor in winter to protect them from the cold.

the stairs
 The roof of the broch would've been conical and made of thatch, supported by wooden timbers. The brochs would've also had a few timber floors for living quarters for perhaps large extended families.

at the top of the stairs
 Brochs have no big exterior windows, just a few voids in the wall for a small amount of light and air circulation, and one low entrance door, so you can imagine how dark they must have been.

view out over the broch
 Brochs were generally tall and imposing, often constructed on hills. Some were at least 13 meters high and they were built without mortar. The builders of the time must have been very skilled for these structures to have stood for so many centuries.

The interior at ground level showing the two doorways. We went into the one on the far left to access the stairs.
 Some brochs are smaller so it could be that almost everyone, or those who held land, lived in a broch of one size or another because on the islands of Barra and North Uist, it was discovered that there were as many broch ruins as there were tenant farmers during the 18th century. So, big impressive brochs like Dun Carloway may have been the home of a chief or tribal leader, while smaller brochs were homes of landholding families of lesser rank.

Very low doorway into what might have been a guard room.
 Many brochs of the Hebrides were lived in for generations of the same family. Experts believe the people of the western isles stopped building brochs around the first century AD but many were still occupied. Some people even built later houses within the walls of the roofless brochs.

The loch below the broch.
Local legend says that during the 1500s the Morrison Clan of Ness carried out a cattle raid on the local Clan MacAuly. They were caught red-handed but took refuge in Dun Carloway and blocked the door. Donald Cam MacAuly climbed up the outside wall of the broch and threw burning heather down into the interior to smoke out the raiders. This leads historians to believe the walls of the broch were much higher and more complete at that time.

Local resident
 After it was abandoned, prior to 1797, Dun Carloway was mostly ignored by the general public. That year marks the first mention of the broch in print. It is believed ancient sites like this broch were simply considered to be part of the landscape and not worthy of mention. In the 1800s people became more interested in ancient structures and monuments. They soon discovered the brochs predated the Viking age by several centuries. Dun Carloway was taken into state care in 1887.

Click on photo to enlarge

click on photo to enlarge
The above photos show what the interior of a broch might have looked like and gives some historical information.

I hope you've enjoyed this peek inside a broch. We'll continue our tour of Isle of Lewis next time.

Battle-hardened warrior Dirk MacLerie isn't who everyone thinks he is. He's Dirk MacKay, heir apparent to the MacKay chiefdom and Dunnakeil Castle on the far north coast of Scotland. When he returns home after a long absence, will his clan know him and will the duplicitous enemy who tried to murder him twelve years ago kill him in truth this time?

Lady Isobel MacKenzie is a beautiful young widow betrothed to yet another Highland chief by her brother's order. But when her future brother-in-law accosts her and threatens to kill her, she is forced to flee into a Highland snowstorm. When she runs into a rugged and imposing man she thought dead, she wonders if he will turn her over to her enemy or take her to safety.

Dirk remembers the enchanting, dark-eyed Isobel from when he was a lad, but now she is bound to another man by legal contract—an important detail she would prefer to forget. She wishes to choose her own husband and has her sights set on Dirk. But he would never steal another man's bride… would he? The tantalizing lady fires up his passions, testing his willpower and honor at every turn, even as some of his own treacherous clansmen plot his downfall.


Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

Great pictures. I loved the ram. Tweeted.

Pat McDermott said...

Fascinating history, Vonda. Comprehensive and nicely illustrated, as usual. Enjoyed my "broch" visit!

Lyn Horner said...

More fascinating photos and info! Thanks for sharing your adventure, Vonda. can't wait for the next installment!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Ella, Pat and Lyn, thanks so much!! Wish I could've petted the ram but he was kinda shy.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

The conical shaped ones sort of remind me of the teepees in our country. I guess you really had to love your family to live in these places. Another interesting post, Vonda. You know I wouldn't miss one of your great blogs. Thank You!

Vanessa Holland said...

Cool place! Kinda haunting. That's a place I'd like to visit someday. Great pics.

Julie Robinson said...

Thanks for posting about these little known archeological parts of history, which I am fascinated by. Supposedly some of my ancestors were supposed to be from the Hebrides Islands, so I'm always eager to learn more. Look forward to the next cyber tour.

Carly Carson said...

I will say that my stone wall didn't even last for the 50 years since my house has been built! And it is very expensive to replace them. All we heard about is how hard it is to find craftsmen who can do stone walls nowadays. And look how long the walls you show have stood there. But I don't think I'd want to live inside.

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thanks so much, Paisley! The shape of both dwellings must be sort of instinctive to the builders of the time. It was a fascinating ruin to visit.

Vanessa, thanks a bunch! You would love it. You make me wonder now if it could be haunted? :) How would you like to stay inside there for a night? :)

Vonda Sinclair said...

Julie, that's interesting that your ancestors may have been from the Hebrides! These islands have a fascinating history.

Carly, sorry to hear about your stone wall! From what I've heard, stone walls without mortar (dry stacked) last longer because they move with the freezing and thawing of winter but don't fall apart. If mortar or cement is used, then this can crack and break apart with the freezing and thawing. Some of the walls of the broch have been repaired over the last century or two. Prior to the 1800s though it's doubtful anyone repaired it. Mostly they carried the fallen stones away back then to build their own homes with.

Anonymous said...

Amazing - this is the first I've heard of this kind of structure. Thanks for sharing your photos and observations - they're wonderful!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thanks, Sherrie! This is the first broch I've visited. It's great fun making these new discoveries.

Jennifer (JC Page) said...

Interesting broch history. Can't imagine the living conditions with others and animals(smelling, noise). The protection was ideal for that period in history. Love the pics and info. Thank-you, Vonda!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jennifer! I'm sure it was a hard life. Fortunately the animals were probably only in there during the coldest part of the year. Smells wouldn't be as bad then. Probably similar to a barn loft.

Gerri Bowen said...

So very interesting, Vonda. Great photos! Thank you! :)

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thanks, Gerri! I'm glad you enjoyed it!