More rocks and a broch

Our last day. Our first port of call was the Brough of Birsay. Some planning is required to visit this site as it is connected to the mainland by a causeway only accessible around low tide.

brough of birsay

There are some interesting rocks alongside the causeway. These fossilized sand ripples caught my eye…


…just like ones today.


The original residents of the brough were the Picts, who lived here in the 600s and 700s. Today the most obvious evidence of them is in the (cast replacement) symbol stone in the graveyard. Unfortunately, the lap-top corrupted my photo of the stone when it had a funny turn, but here is a shot of the information board so that you can at least take a peek at Pictish art.

pictish art

Much of their settlement was overbuilt by the Vikings and a lot of what is on view today on the Brough dates back to the Norse settlement from the early 800s to the 1200s. Development over time makes for further confusion, and the picture is not helped by coastal erosion, which probably means that a large part of the original settlement has been lost to the sea.
The church is the only really identifiable building remaining on the site dating back to about 1100 and was dedicated to St Peter. Though very small it is of Romanesque design. It probably had a square tower at one end, and a semi-circular apse at the other. Enough of the church is standing to reveal a wall cupboard on one side, and parts of two windows complete with evidence that they may have been glazed.

In the next picture the main structure is the church and its attached buildings and graveyard. Beyond this, towards the shore, is a confusing jumble of paved areas and walls that represent successive waves of Norse building over the top of earlier Pictish structures. One building has been identified as a possible sauna and bathhouse, probably associated with what might be an Earl’s house next door to it. Another area of slabbed flooring shows clear signs of the drain running underneath. In the foreground to the right are the elongated remains of early Norse houses.

brough of birsay

We visited our last – and one of the best we thought – piece of archaeology in the afternoon; the Broch of Gurness. Brochs are fortified dwellings and are unique to Scotland. They were built by farmers, successors to those who, many centuries before, built the great tombs of Orkney. The broch at Gurness was excavated in 1929. We’ve visited quite a few brochs in the past but this is the first one we’ve seen which has many internal structures still visible. Also, unlike many brochs which stand alone, this one is surrounded by a sizable village. Brochs were built in the iron- age, about 2,000 years ago.
This photo shows the entrance into the broch with its surrounding houses in the foreground.

Broch of gurness

Looking at the artist’s impression of how the buildings looked originally, it must have been an impressive structure.

broch of gurness

Inside we could see the central hearth…

broch of gurness

…and what are essentially stone cupboards…

broch of gurness

…and there’s a well which is constructed in a very similar way to the one we saw at Mine Howe the previous day.

broch of gurness

Here we are looking in through someone’s front door!

stone-age dwelling

Also discovered on this site was a more recent Pictish house. This was moved stone by stone and re-constructed a small distance away so that excavation of the dwellings underneath could be carried out. It is known as the ‘Shamrock House’ because of its lobed construction.

shamrock house

At the visitor centre there was an intriguing wood knot to peep through…

wood knot

…and take a look at life inside the broch.

around the hearth

Of course Orkney isn’t just about archaeology so tomorrow I shall share some of the scenery and birdlife.


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2 Responses to “More rocks and a broch”

  1. cecilia Says:

    absolutely stunning, i have SO enjoyed my holiday with you.. you are a great teacher.. c

    • garybuie01 Says:

      I’m amazed that you’ve had the time to take a holiday with all those new additions to The Farmy!
      Glad you’ve enjoyed it. Some cliff top walks tomorrow.

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