Situated in the heart of Lerwick, Shetland’s main town, Clickimin Broch stands elegantly on the shores of the loch, facing the modern new High School building. One of about 120 known broch sites in Shetland, these Iron Age structures dominate much of the Shetland landscape. Built around 2,000 years ago, brochs are giant round towers which were built across the north and west of Scotland in the Late Iron Age. Archaeologists are still unsure what the purpose of the brochs was, and debates are fiercely held regarding whether they were defensive structures, agricultural storehouses or grand homes for high-status members of the community. Whatever, their purpose, brochs ask more questions than they answer.
Approaching the broch at Clickimin, visitors can get a sense of what the landscape would have looked like when a causeway linked the broch island to the land around it. The loch that once boasted an island that the broch stood on was drained in the late 19th century by a butcher called Mackay (who we meet again).
The broch itself sits within a walled enclosure containing a rich chronology of other archaeological remains including, a Late Bronze Age farmstead, an Early Iron Age farm, an Iron Age block fort, the broch itself, and a later wheelhouse that sits within the broch walls.
Interestingly, Clickhimin (as it is actually called) was the first building in Britain to be protected in court by the Ancient Monuments Act of 1886. The reason it had to be given special protection was down, again, to butcher Mackay who was pilfering stones to build his stables.
Antiquarians extensively rebuilt the broch in the 19th century. We don’t know how accurate their restoration was, and the only evidence we can draw upon is the grainy photographs taken in the late 19th century before work commenced.
It’s been suggested that brochs may have been used for defensive purposes, and indeed there’s a strong argument to back this claim up. In the most part, brochs tend to be built in coastal locations with views out to sea. This is not the case with Clickimin broch which is tucked into the landscape, out of view of the sea beyond.
Bressay Sound itself, where Lerwick is situated on the shores of, was well protected by brochs at Aithsetter, Burland, Gulberwick and Heogan and possibly Leravoe in Bressay.
If you get the opportunity to visit Clickimin, look out for the Pict’s footprints set into a stone on the causeway. Similar footprints, associated with kinship, can be found in Scotland at Kilmartin Glen, Argyle.
The broch is often referred to as the ‘Picts’ Castle’, which is a bit of a misnomer as it probably predates the picts. Shetland was very much on the periphery of the Pictish Kingdom, yet evidence of their presence is still evident across the isles.
Written by Laurie Goodlad