Aberdeenshire's Best Castles
Scotland’s Best Coffee Roasters
Scotland’s Best Coffee Roasters
This group of craft coffee roasters can, quite literally, create your perfect cup of coffee. The first speciality coffee roaster in Scotland, opened in 2007 and now expanding to multiple speciality cafes across Scotland – as well as their central roastery – Artisan Roast focus on how each of the senses receives coffee to individual blends to suit any palate. The beans are ethically sourced and the company actually boasts the biggest collection of single-origin beans in Scotland, all sourced by their team of coffee sourcing and roasting experts.
Named as a winner at the Scottish Café Awards 2019 and a Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice in 2020, Figment Coffee Company make coffee with green beans from all over the world. Its roastery and café specialise in the huge depths of flavour that the right coffee beans can bring – all ethically sourced and traceable back to the farmers who grew them. Their café offers a variety of delicious espresso options, as well as an extensive menu of fresh food designed in collaboration with Jamie Scott, chef at the famous Newport Restaurant.
Founded in 2011 on top of Glen Lyon, this team of six have been roasting specialty coffee in the Highlands for over a decade. The company’s vision is putting people and the environment before profit, with their 100% traceable and ethically sourced beans. Committed to zero waste and working with specialty grade coffee, their arabica beans are sourced from all over the world and roasted in small batches for a better depth of flavour. You can find them now in Aberfeldy on the banks of the River Tay, where they’re key members of the Highland Perthshire community.
Featuring beans roasted in small batch quantities in their beautiful Leith café, Williams & Johnson Coffee Co take the beans with the season, creating rotating menus of coffees specially curated by their in-house experts. Always searching for the best coffee bean, their in-house blends are designed to bring forward the natural tastes and aromas of the coffee, sourced from remote areas of Rwanda, Columbia, Kenya and more. Not just serving coffee at their flagship café and roastery, Williams & Johnson also offer subscription services, gifts – and at-home brewing kits so you can create your coffee your own way.
Describing themselves as ‘pure air, pure taste, pure Hebridean’, Hinba Coffee Roasters boast the unique challenge of roasting their coffee beans in ‘pure air’, thanks to their picturesque mountain location. Using speciality green coffee beans, their focus is on protecting the environment around them and giving back to the area that helps makes their coffee so delicious. With beans from Brazil, Rwanda and Peru, this family-run roastery aims to unlock the unique flavours within all of the coffee they source, creating delicious, unique blends that also give you room to experiment when you drink them at home.
Named after the ‘Dear Green Place’ nickname for Glasgow, Dear Green deals exclusively in speciality grade coffee beans. Established in 2011 in Glasgow’s fashionable East End, Dear Green is a B Corporation that supplies coffee beans to cafes, restaurants, workplaces and even homes. Every step of their coffee production is ethical and helps to support both the local community roasters and the international farmers who grow the beans. To paraphrase their mantra – ‘They LOVE coffee!’
Not only does Unorthodox bring great coffee to its signature cafes and roastery, they are also very passionate about teaching people what truly makes good coffee. Founded in 2015, the Roasters spent nearly a year visiting all the major coffee producing countries in Central and South America to learn about the beans they harvest and have brought the knowledge back to Scotland. Unorthodox also produces a range of speciality hot chocolates and experimental lattes available in their cafes in Kinross and Stirling.
Founded in Glasgow’s West End in 2012 with a café and a roastery, Papercup is committed to bringing good food and good coffee together under one roof – without compromise. All of their beans are ethically sourced and environmentally conscious, with top roasters constantly sampling, experimenting and tasting to create the best cup of coffee. You can visit their namesake café or order their beans directly to your door through their website.
This award-winning roastery and café, found at Edinburgh Haymarket station and its soon-to-be new home of Bank Street, Galashiels, prides itself on ethically sourced beans roasted with environmentally friendly methods. Having accumulated multiple awards for their single origin roasts and blends, including from the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards, Luckie Beans uses 50% less gas than other comparable roasters. You can purchase their small-batch roasted beans via their website – shipped with fully recyclable packaging.
Based in the beautiful seaside town of North Berwick, Steampunk’s central focus is on quality, sustainability and community. Creating speciality coffees that are served in The Warehouse, alongside a delicious bakery menu, you can also get their specially selected beans delivered straight to your door. And if you’re looking to try out your barista skills, Steampunk also runs a series of online classes to really amp up your coffee game.
Offering purity and transparency in their coffee-making, the Obadiah Collective know everything there is to know about the coffee they sell – from the variety of tree it grew on to the conditions it was processed in. They sell delicately roasted coffee beans in wholesale and as a subscription package to customers, partnering with people around the world to make the process of making coffee as transparent as it can be.
Found on Argyle Street in Glasgow, Steamie creates fine, small-batch coffee that’s freshly roasted and available to be delivered to your door. Their beans are roasted using the traditional method – in a drum roaster. Beans are harvested in season and at their freshest, with roasters constantly exploring the unique history of the beans they purchase. They work hard to ensure every step of the supply chain for their coffee is ethical and fully transparent.
Their slogan? ‘Roasted for the common good’. Common coffee isn’t just about making great coffee, it’s about how coffee impacts everyone’s lives, from the drinkers to the growers. Established in 2018, they stick to four flavour roasts – strong, sweet, bright and complex – for their blends, which you can buy via their website. If you want to try it in person, head to Edinburgh’s Mayyn Café for a cup made with one of their speciality selections.
A speciality roastery in Arbroath, Angus, Sacred Grounds is the only coffee roastery currently established in Angus. Sourcing green beans from sustainable and ethical sources all over the world, the company prioritises a high-quality roasting process to make great coffee every time. Opened in 2015, they are quickly building a great reputation for attention to detail and quality in their coffee. You can buy their beans from their website and grind them at home to achieve the perfect flavour of their carefully curated blends.
Found in three locations across Edinburgh, Eion’s headquarters is a boutique roaster in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. You can order their coffee straight to your door or head for one of their cafes for the perfect cup, as well as a simple of their loose-leaf teas. Though their base is small, it’s full of heart – and its enthusiastic team will be more than happy to talk to you about the beans on offer – and where they came from.
The oldest roaster on this list, Thomson’s was founded in Glasgow in 1841, making ground coffee for the local coffee houses. Now, it’s an independently owned family business, bringing quality and integrity to all of their coffees. Traditional methods are blended with artisanal trends and experiments to create great coffee every time. Order via their website or stop into their Southside roastery where a small shop welcomes local customers.
This family-run business in the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains ensures regular roastings keep their beans in good condition – and produces great coffee when it goes to grind. As well as supplying coffee to the locals via their location on Bridge Street, Royal Deeside, you can order coffee beans and loose-leaf teas via their website, as well as local sweet treats including chocolates and traditional tablet.
Aberdeenshire’s Best Castles
Aberdeenshire’s Best Castles
The sheer number of castles scattered across every part of the Scottish landscape is astounding. With each one in a different condition and dating from a different time, no two castles are remotely the same, and each can tell its visitors a new story. Perhaps more than any other area, Aberdeenshire plays host to countless strongholds that are ready to be explored by eager visitors. From the nine castles of the Knuckle to more remote ruins, this article highlights some of the unmissable locations for anyone in the outskirts of the Granite City.
Where the rivers Deveron and Bogie converge near the border of Aberdeenshire, the Earl of Fife built an impressive castle for himself sometime between 1180 and 1190. Passing through the hands of countless owners who made just as many additions and adjustments, Huntly Castle now stands in semi-ruin following catastrophic damage after the Jacobean rising. Much of the surviving building was the work of the 4th and 6th Earls of Huntly, such as the luxurious stately palace, several high-rising towers, and the intricately crafted frontispiece above the castle’s main entrance.
For over 650 years, Clan Irvine was proud to call Drum Castle their ancestral home. An exceedingly rare example of a tower house remaining unaltered throughout its history, scholars believe it to be the third oldest of its kind in Scotland. The National Trust purchased the castle in more recent years, opening its sprawling family rooms and masterfully tended rose gardens to the public for the first time. Looking over the quadrant gardens, visitors can enjoy an assortment of home baking in the wonderful Mary’s Larder.
In its stunningly rugged location on a rocky outcrop high above the North Sea, Dunnottar Castle’s prominent role in Scottish history should come as no surprise. Walking the bridge, surrounded by the choppy blue void below, is a breath-taking experience no matter how many times you do it. Clan Keith gradually constructed the estate between the 13th and 17th centuries, although only a haunting set of ruins remain. Visitors should note that, given its severely defensive placement, Dunnottar is a relatively inaccessible castle, although the views are more than worth the effort.
Perhaps second in fame only to Edinburgh, the preferred residence of Queen Elizabeth II has been a staple of Scottish tourism since it came under royal ownership in 1852. The estate comprises a staggering 50,000 acres that are organised in such a way to make them microcosmic of the wider Caledonian highlands. Moors, farmlands, and forests are populated by Highland cows and deer herds, with the incredible palace standing as the space’s centrepiece. Much of the castle’s architectural design was directly overseen by Prince Albert soon after his and Queen Victoria’s acquisition of the estate, strengthening the inseparable bond between royalty and Balmoral.
Held by the likes of James I and Alexander Stewart, the sprawling fortresses of Kildrummy Castle are our best surviving example of 13th-century castle design. The shield-shaped layout featured various towers and an extensive gatehouse, as well as natural defences via the ‘Black Den’ ravine. Also still standing are aspects of the castle’s chapel, including the high altar positioned beneath the trio of lancet windows. However, it is Kildrummy’s location that sparks the most interest, given its incredible views onto the rolling highland surroundings.
Unlike the larger, multi-building designs of its contemporaries, Knock Castle is constructed in the vertical style of a laird’s residence. Just miles away from Balmoral, the ruined castle gives visitors a glimpse into the scenic life of Scotland’s landed gentry. Much of the building’s history is shrouded in opaque enigma, but no part more so than its eventual fate. Historians posit a variety of explanations for how Knock Castle became the ruin we can see today, although none can be confirmed as absolute fact, leaving the fort as a fascinating mystery of Scotland’s past.
Clan Farquharson’s ancestral home stands surrounded by the luscious greenery of Aberdeenshire at its most beautiful. This scenery, as well as the architectural grace of the fortress itself, belies the extensive military history that brought Braemar Castle into the limelight of Scotland’s development. Of course, violence is not the only thing that made Braemar into such a culturally significant location – the grounds also hosted Queen Victoria during the traditional Highland Games, which quickly became a keystone of the nation itself.
Fields of golden rapeseed lead visitors to the quiet dignity of 16th-century Inchdrewer Castle, standing just a stone’s throw away from Aberdeenshire’s northern coast. Although the details of its construction are obscured by a lack of exact chronicles, historians believe it was built while James IV was King of Scotland. For much of the 20th century, however, the castle lay derelict and unfortunately abandoned, until its recent purchase by fashion mogul Olga Roh. This abandonment has allowed spectral speculating to run wild, with even celebrated Scottish author Nigel Tranter reporting sightings of a ghostly white dog.
The nine castles of the Knuckle are ancient structures found scattered around the north-eastern coast of Aberdeenshire – an area that resembles the knuckles of a fist. Although some remained preserved or even inhabited, Pitsligo Castle was not so fortunate, and only a few of the fortress’ buildings remain explorable. What remains of the castle gazes onto the gorgeous bay of Rosehearty from its hilltop vantage point, giving visitors an incredible view of the Buchan landscape. This idyllic patch of history is now undergoing restorative works and will gradually be returning to its former majesty as the project continues.
New Slains’ status as a muse for writers and cinematographers should come as no surprise to anyone who comes across it. Built from remarkably well-preserved 16th century stone, its extensive surviving buildings stand upon high, rugged clifftops that look down upon the choppy North Sea below. Bram Stoker, famed for writing the seminal gothic novel Dracula, frequently visited nearby locations such as Cruden Bay, leading many to speculate that the imposing structure inspired the eponymous vampire’s own fortress. However apocryphal that tale may be, it does not diminish the haunting, almost ethereal atmosphere that clings to every brick of New Slains Castle.
Possibly the most instantly recognisable in the country, the fairytale pink stonework of Craigievar Castle has enchanted visitors across its multi-century life. With the layered hills of the Grampians stretching far beyond and the various intricately carved structures adorning the walls, the pink castle is simply breathtaking. Inside is just as impressive, as the former owners bequeathed a mass collection of art and historical artefacts to the National Trust when they took ownership of the property. Every aspect of Craigievar could be taken straight from a fantasy novel, including the wonderous lands that surround it, which visitors can navigate via several unique woodland trails.
From the year 1030 onwards, there has always been a fortified structure where Delgatie Castle currently stands, just a few miles northwest of Delgaty itself. Much of what we know of Delgatie comes from the writings of its final private owner, the Feudal Baron Captain John Hay. Clan Hay ruled the castle for hundreds of years since Robert the Bruce stripped it from its previous owners during the Wars of Independence. John Hay himself worked tirelessly to restore his ancestral home to its current state, and the passionate Delgatie Castle Trust continue his legacy by maintaining the homely feel of its interior as well as the authentic design of its outside.
As remote as castles could ever hope to be, visitors to Corgarff Castle can admire the unique star-shaped wall surrounding it during the long walk west. Tragedy and fire struck Corgarff frequently since its construction in the mid-1500s, including one occasion that may have directly inspired the tragic ballad ‘Edom o Gordon’. Both Jacobites and Redcoats held the castle (on separate occasions), as did a small group of whisky distillers during the 1820s. For such an isolated building, the thick walls of Corgarff have countless stories to tell, all of which are explorable now that the property is owned by Historic Environment Scotland.
A true relic of ancient times, the fact that Fyvie Castle still stands in such remarkable condition at 800 years old is simply astonishing. Myth and legends shroud much of the castle, including its mysterious construction, which some attribute to the great Scottish king William the Lion. More substantial chronicles highlight that the likes of Robert the Bruce and even Charles I spent time in the castle before it transitioned from a fortified structure into a family residence. Each subsequent family enhanced Fyvie with their own tastes and touches, making the final product a really beautiful palace facing out onto the stunning Aberdeenshire countryside. Inside, guests can also appreciate the incredible collection of portraits and other antiquities that have amassed in the walls throughout the years.
Scotland’s Best Coffee Roasters
Jutting out from the centre of an incredibly flat patch of land, the Udny family home has been through several reinventions but none that diminished its absolute noticeability. Its contemporary state is its most historically authentic – a rectangular tower-house that, despite its simplicity, remains imposing against the barren greenery around it. Over the centuries, various lairds took control of the castle and attempted to construct additions, yet history documents their financial failures. Although still under private ownership, the Udny family are used to curious visitors on their grounds, so tourists are encouraged to take a look at the stunningly imposing monolith if they can.
Cluny Castle has the rare boon of being deeply rich in both history and aesthetic beauty. Intricate curves meet slick straight lines to create an almost intimidatingly gorgeous building, arguably the best-looking Z-plan castle still surviving in Scotland. Cluny has consistently been in the hands of one branch or another of the Gordon family, even after one subsection was ousted for their participation in the Jacobite rebellion. Physical changes only truly began occurring on the property in the 19th century – a full 300 years after its initial construction – when Colonel Gordon took control. His descendants have continued the Colonel’s legacy, opening the castle up to corporate events and weddings in search of a fairytale venue. Although Cluny is not open to the public, its grounds are a stunning space to explore, full of lush greenery and giving incredible views of the building.
Born of Celtic mythology, the stories spun of the kelpies depict them as anything from ethereal temptresses to cloven-hooved minions of the Devil. What is shared across all folktales, however, is their association with Scotland’s many bodies of water and their enigmatic shapeshifting abilities.
Although depicted in countless works of art and literature – from ancient folklore to the nation’s most celebrated writers like Walter Scott and Robert Burns – inarguably the most recognisable portrayal of the creatures came in 2013 in rural Falkirk. The twin horseheads, standing an incredible 30 metres high, were designed by Scottish sculptor Andy Scott, whose work in galvanised steel are landmarks across the whole country. Each Kelpie weighs over 300 tonnes, making it even more impressive that the statues are hollow and are open for exploration via one of the many guided tours on offer. They are the centrepiece of a sprawling park complex of intertwining waterways and transformed landscapes that have withstood uncountable millennia of natural and human damage; it is this Caledonian sturdiness that these colossal creations were built to symbolise.
Scotland’s Best Coffee Roasters
How to get there
Visitors can access the Helix Car Park for free all year round, although the closer Kelpies Car Park charges a small fee. The Dalgrain Road bus stop, accessible by X24 and 2 buses, is the nearest public transport link, requiring a short walk after disembarking.
The Murderous Craigmillar Bond
The Murderous Craigmillar Caslte
Often referred to as Edinburgh’s “other” castle, Craigmillar deserves much more recognition than that. Just a few miles outside the cramped city walls, this was the perfect place to rest, relax and hatch royal murder plots.
Craigmillar Castle was originally constructed in the early 15th century by the Preston family and became a convenient escape for the Scottish monarchy. James III was known to keep political prisoners there and it was isolated enough to protect a young James V from an outbreak of plague in Edinburgh.
Mary Queen of Scots has a connection with dozens of buildings around Scotland. She travelled the country extensively and it seems that there are few castles that don’t have a room the young Queen slept in. However, Craigmillar has a more intriguing story than most.
Mary was hosted at the castle a number of times by the charming Sir Simon Preston. She was in constant need of somewhere to avoid the judgmental eyes around Holyrood Palace. In November 1566, the Queen escaped to Craigmillar to recover after one of the most eventful and dramatic periods of her life.
Earlier in the year, while the heavily pregnant Queen was having supper in the private apartments of Holyrood, her husband Lord Darnley had burst in with a group of rebellious nobles. They dragged her secretary David Rizzio out of the room and brutally murdered him before tossing his corpse out of the window. The terrified Mary even had a gun held against her unborn child to stop her from trying to interfere.
The Queen did safely give birth to the future James VI, but it was a long and difficult labour. Mary fell gravely ill soon after and made her way to the safety of Craigmillar Castle. While she was recovering upstairs, her most loyal nobles gathered in the castle’s hall. There they decided something must be done about Lord Darnley. A scheme was hatched that would become known as the Craigmillar Bond although if a written agreement had ever been signed, it has since been lost.
With or without Mary’s knowledge, Darnley’s death had been arranged. Three months later, the Queen’s husband was suffering from his own illness. The conspiring nobles tried to convince him to travel to Craigmillar Castle to recover but instead, he chose a house called Kirk o’ Field in Edinburgh. Mary visited to care for him through the day but at some point, in the middle of the night, an enormous explosion rocked the city. Hidden barrels of gunpowder had blown up, reducing the house to rubble.
The body of the deceased Darnley was discovered but not amongst the wreckage of the explosion. He was found lying in the garden of Kirk o’ Field, half naked as if he had attempted to flee to safety. To make matters worse, it was clear to all that he had been strangled along with his servant. The Craigmillar Bond had been carried out but if the plan had been to make the murder look like an accident, then it had badly failed.
Fingal’s Cave and The Giant’s Duel
The myths and legends of Scotland and Ireland are deeply connected and nowhere is that more evident than the immensely impressive Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. Not only do the mass of black columns look like they have been stolen from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland but Fingal is another name for thelegendary hero known as Fionn mac Cumhaill on the other side of the water.
It’s no surprise that people started telling legends to explain Fingal’s Cave. It’s soperfectly formed that somebody must have carved this place out of the rock and that somebody must have been a giant. Known as The Cave of Melody until being renamed the 18th century, it has inspired poets, musicians and artists including Walter Scott.
The cave on Staffa wasn’t originally the home of Fingal but was where his nemesis, the Scottish giant Benandonner lived. Fingal was a big man and a legendary warrior but he wasn’t a true giant. Benandonner was much larger thanFingal and insults were hurled in both directions with each feeling safe because of the sea between them. Eventually the Scottish giant challenged the Irish hero to a showdown to see who could live up to their threats. A bridge between Staffa and Ireland was built using the huge basalt columns still found at both ends.
Benandonner wasn’t sure what he had got himself into. He had never actually seen Fingal but had heard of his adventures and the impressive foes that he had slain. The giant had a reputation to uphold though and he didn’t think anybody could truly be bigger or stronger than he was. Crossing the Irish sea on this new bridge, Benandonner could be seen for miles standing out against the horizon.
Waiting at the Irish end, Fingal finally caught a glimpse of Benandonner and now it was his turn to be worried. He might be a giant of a man but even he would struggle to defeat something the size of his Scottish rival! Fingal’s wife was a cunning lady and she had an idea. Instead of trying to match Benandonner for strength they would beat him with their wits.
Fingal lay down and was swaddled in a huge sheet by his wife just like a newbornbaby. When Benandonner arrived and demanded to battle his opponent there and then, he was told it would need to wait. Fingal was out hunting and it was only his wife and the baby at home for now. As soon as Benandonner saw the size of this baby his jaw dropped. If that was how big the child was then imagine how enormous his father Fingal must be!
Benandonner wasn’t going to wait to find out and he raced back across the bridge, destroying it as he went. He reached the safety of his cave on Staffa and thanked his luck that Fingal hadn’t been at home when he arrived. Over time, the legends of Benandonner have faded away and as well as winning their feud, Fingal seems to have won the name of the incredible cave on Staffa.
Did you know that the first sighting of Nessie was in the 6th century?
Unicorns weren’t always thought to be mythical. Centuries ago, when much of the world was unknown to Europeans, it was very much thought to be real. With experienced travellers describing rhinos and con artists selling narwhal tusks as unicorn horns, people had no reason not to believe. This unicorn was no fluffy, cute animal with a rainbow tail but a symbol of purity, power and masculinity. They were a proud beast that could never be tamed which sounds like the perfect animal to represent Scotland. On the royal coat of arms, the unicorn is shown with a crown and a chain around it’s neck because only a King could keep one captive but it was so dangerous it had to be restrained.
Unicorns were known as the natural enemy of the lion, being the only animal strong enough to defeat the big cat. With England adopting the Lion as their symbol and the centuries of turmoil between the two countries, it seems like too much of a coincidence that we would end up with arch-rivals as national animals.
Shetland’s Best Brochs
When we think of grand Scottish buildings, often it’s the castles that come to mind, yet the north and west of Scotland are punctuated with some fascinating brochs representing some of the nation’s most incredible prehistoric architectural triumphs.
Brochs are unique to the north and west of Scotland, and this blog will consider Shetland’s best brochs – and with over 120 known broch sites, this was no easy task.
But before we dive into the pick of the best, what is a broch and why do they remain one of Scotland’s greatest mysteries to this very day.
A broch, in simple terms, is a round, stone structure constructed using two drystone walls – an inner and outer – with a staircase built between the two, reaching the top. They date back about 2,000 years to the mid-Iron Age, and there was a high density of them throughout Shetland. Archaeologists still dispute what they were used for – whether they were defensive or offensive. Were they storehouses, or were they the high-status homes of local chieftains? Perhaps they were community hubs? We don’t know. All that we can be sure of is that they remain shrouded in mystery and still, to this day, leave archaeologists scratching their heads for answers.
It would be wrong to start this insight into Shetland’s brochs with any other broch than Mousa. Mousa is the best-preserved example of a broch anywhere in Scotland – it is no exaggeration tosay that this is the best broch in the world. Standing at an impressive and gravity-defying 13 metres, a stone staircase between the inner and outer broch walls leads visitors to the top, where they can gaze out across the surrounding landscape.
Mousa is a now uninhabited island off the east coast of Shetland, accessible during the summermonths by boat trip, operated by The Mousa Boat. Historic Scotland manages the broch itself, and the island as a whole is an RSPB Nature Reserve due to the important breeding colony of storm petrels that nest within the stone walls on the island and, more impressively, within the broch walls itself.
Mousa Broch has featured twice in the Norse sagas of the 12th century. In one account, the broch was used as a bolthole for an eloping couple who were en route to Iceland. It was also described as being a difficult place to reach and attack.
Although the jury is still firmly out on the purpose of brochs, we know that the approaches to Mousa Sound would have appeared an imposing sight. Not only did the Mousa Broch stand sentry on the island side of the sound, but another broch, a mirror image of Mousa, stood across the water at Burland. Burland Broch now stands in ruin, and most of the stones have been taken from the site to build the surrounding crofting township at Burland.
Perhaps the best thing about the Culswick Broch is its location; it stands on a remote headland, deep in the heart of Shetland’s lesser-explored West Mainland. The walk out to the broch takes visitors over open moorland and breathtaking coastal stretches punctuated by sheer cliffs and stacks.
The broch itself stands on the highest point of the headland, with views across to the island of Foula. The broch structure is constructed from local red granite, giving it a warm and welcomingfeel, and the views across the West Mainland provide the perfect backdrop to a picnic after the one-and-a-half-mile walk.
On the whole, this is a quiet corner of Shetland and should provide the solitude that many of us crave when out exploring.
Scatness, unlike most of the brochs featured here, is an archaeological site managed by Shetland Amenity Trust with a small visitor centre and guided tours interpreting the wonder and mystery of Iron Age Shetland.
One of the most impressive features of Old Scatness, no longer visible today, is the massive ditch that surrounded the broch and associated Iron Age village. The trench was four metres deep, with ramparts standing at up to six metres high above it and seven metres wide – this would have been a difficult obstacle to overcome if you were on the attack.
The site itself is fascinating and has changed how archaeologists consider the broader broch period in Shetland and beyond. Radiocarbon dating on-site pushes the period of broch building back to 400 BC, placing them firmly in the mid-Iron Age.
The exciting thing about these early dates is that it may suggest, albeit tentatively, that broch building began in the north and was adopted to south and western areas of Scotland from Shetland.
Old Scatness, like Culswick, has an impressive triangular-shaped lintel stone that stands above the entry door, and like Clickimin – but very few, if any others – has two entrances. Generally speaking, brochs had only one door and no windows, suggesting that these were defensive or protective buildings.
Moving north to the island of Yell, and another ruined broch that stands unexcavated and collapsed is the broch of Burraness. This is another quiet, often unexplored part of Shetland thatis worth visiting. The one-and-a-half-mile walk out to the broch from North Sandwick takes in stunning coastline and two sandy beaches.
The broch appears more dominating from the seaward side where the walls still stand several metres high. The area to the back of the broch is punctuated by ramparts – another nod towardsthe suggestion that these could have been defensive structures.
Clickimin Broch is a bit of an enigma and not altogether what it first seems. The broch itself sits on the side of Clickimin loch in the centre of Lerwick, overlooked by the modern high school. The oldest parts of the site date to the Late Bronze Age, where a farmstead can still be seen in the area surrounding the broch.
The broch itself looks typically broch-like; it has a double wall made of drystone and a later wheelhouse added inside the main structure of the building but, it’s unclear that this is what the original design would have looked like. In the late 19th century, the broch stood in a ruinous state, no more than a rubble of stone, and local antiquarians rebuilt it, modelling it on what they supposed it would have looked like when it stood 2,000 years ago.
Whether the broch is close to the original or not almost doesn’t matter; its location, structure, mystery and intrigue continues to draw people down to the quiet shores of the loch to discover more about Shetland’s Iron Age past.
Neighbouring the island of Yell is Unst, Shetland’s most northerly island and home to over a dozen brochs. One of the best to visit is the Underhoull Broch, with its deep ditches and ramparts enclosing the broch structure. The broch is no more than a grassy mound on the hill, but the structure is clearly defined, and the views across to Lund and beyond to sea are impressive.
Underhoull, like many of the broch sites in Shetland, is one of continuous occupation, and two longhouses stand, just a stone’s throw away from the broch, evidence of the later Viking and Norse influence on the area.
Brochs stood all around the coastline of Shetland, generally in coastal locations, but sometimes beside lochs or on outlying islands that may have at one time been linked to the mainland before sea levels began rising. Where Old Scatness is one of Shetland’s most southerly brochs,Underhoull represents one of the most northerly. It has been suggested that the brochs may have worked together, sending out early warning signals to each other to report danger. Each broch is in view of another, and this intervisibility could have been used advantageously to send smoke signals to neighbouring brochs, sending signals across Iron Shetland and beyond.
Shetland’s broch sites are incredible, and discovering them is great fun, yet, even today, the brochs ask more questions than they answer.
Written By Laurie Goodlad