Orcadian Brochs v Luing Hillforts

06 Nov

Today the ‘mossachist’ and I have been exploring what is listed as a ‘Fort’ on the OS Explorer map 359 which covers the Island of Luing and our fevered imagination sees similarities with the Orcadian Brochs that have been mentioned in newspapers recently. The Orcadian Brochs are in better shape than ours – possibly because they have been constructed by stonemasons and the stone blocks have obviously been shaped by hand – whereas the Luing Broch is more of a Hill Fort built from a random collection of rocks. Although local geology gives many of the stones at least two flat sides the builders were basically the original dry-stone wallers – a skill that is still pursued on the island today.


A good shake would have brought much of the Luing hill fort down and any victorious army would soon have levelled it with the help of many willing hands which is probably the fate that befell this particular defensive wall.


It’s difficult to imagine a perimeter wall in this jumble of rocks – but – there has been a protected north facing entrance at one time and there is still evidence of proper building work in that area.


The original wall was approx five metres thick at it’s base and tapered upwards – probably to a height of approx 3 – 4 mts judging by the amount of rockery present. Some of the fallen rocks may have been borrowed for wall building or sheep fank protection in the centuries since the hill fort was first constructed but as a whole – the debris looks remarkably undisturbed – as if it just collapsed in yesterday’s earthquake perhaps.

In plan our fort veers towards being oval shaped as it follows the contours of the hilltop.


The pale coloured rock must have shone like a beacon in it’s heyday and even more so now with it’s covering of lichen.


No doubt the local clan chief and his extended family lived safely in reasonable comfort behind the walls which command open views in all directions and there is adequate grazing for the communities livestock on the flats beneath the walls and between the neighbouring ridges. No doubt fish formed a large part of their diet and a very safe anchorage for their coracles or longships is provided in the protected bay below at Ardnamir.


So there we have it – a hilltop covered in a motley of stones. It certainly rocked the Mossochist’s boat – to be up close and personal after looking at it from every point of the compass for the past three months.


Nowadays it’s the red cattle of Luing that graze these hills.


and walkers can explore without fear of attack from above —


Changed days – is the hill fort really an ancient monument – or was it a ‘dry run’ by Mr McCaig before he built his Folly on the hill above Oban just up the coast?

Answers by email please to;

No doubt the Orcadians think it a dry run by Mr McCaig as they claim to be the experts in Broch building

See below — courtesy of Wilkipedia..


3d Broch Reconstruction by Sigurd TowrieAt one time, the accepted archaeological theory on the origin of the brochs was that they were built after an “invasion” of “broch builders” – people thought to have been people forced northwards by the Roman invasion of Britain.

Modern archaeology, however, has debunked this long-held idea.

Instead, the current thinking is that the people who constructed Orkney’s brochs were simply farmers and fishermen – the descendents of the islands’ Neolithic tomb builders.

They developed their dwellings in response to the needs of their time, not only providing a solid defensive structure, but probably also to allow them to show-off.

Raiders from the sea?

The fact that most Orcadian brochs were built by the coast has led to the suggestion they were constructed to defend against a sea-borne threat.

Early historians blamed the Romans, who they said, made trips north hunting slaves.

The most recent proponent of this theory is Shetland archivist, Brian Smith, who believes Iron Age Orkney was the centre of a vast Iron Age province, ruled over by a chieftain who co-ordinated a massive programme of defensive brochs to counter a threat from the south.

Mr Smith, who carried out an 18-month survey of brochs in Orkney and Shetland, proposes that these broch-builders had an enemy to the south, so constructed their fortifications in strategic positions, watching over harbours where an enemy might gain a foothold, as well as monitor huge expanses of sea.

The brochs are also found clustered around places where an enemy might co-ordinate an attack from east to west or north to south. Click here for more details.

However, as always, there are other suggestions as to the relevance of the broch’s coastal locations. Perhaps most importantly, a coastal position allows easy access to the sea for fishing and transport and meant the structures could be built without wasting good agricultural land.

But the presence of external defences, comprising of ramparts and ditches, would certainly verify that brochs were built with some defence in mind.

Despite this, however, there is little or no evidence of fighting or of the violent destruction of a broch.

This has led to the idea that the broch dwellers lived in a society where feuds over lands and status were common – perhaps not surprising considering the small area involved – but that actual conflict rarely escalated above local squabbles.

Symbol of authority

The fact that brochs across Scotland are built to practically the same design led to the theory that they were the work of travelling master craftsmen.

These wandering artisans, it is suggested, undertook commissions from individuals, or families, wishing to signal their wealth and standing by constructing a broch.

But wandering craftsmen or not, what brochs do tell us is that Iron Age society was led by strong individuals, leaders who were anxious to broadcast their status and wealth to their rivals. An imposing broch provided an ideal method of doing this.

The brochs were designed to be impressive – an outward show of power, wealth and prestige. To build a broch required considerable manpower, so it was clearly apparent that anyone with a broch must have control, or influence, over a sizeable workforce.

This may have continued as far as the continual maintenance of the broch, which, it has been suggested, could have been organised to reinforce the superiority of the broch owner and maintain the social order within the village.


Over time, the defensive role of the brochs became unnecessary and the dwellers began moving outside the walls.

As the brochs were abandoned, their towering walls were often dismantled, providing a source of building material for the new dwellinghouses.


That’s what I said – I think 🙂



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Posted by on November 6, 2016 in Isle of Luing, out and about


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