Travel north through Scotland’s deep glens, its mist and mountains and its velvety moorland and you’ll eventually see them: crumbling stone towers rising against the Highland peaks like ancient crag-top castles. These mysterious Iron Age monuments are known as brochs and they exist nowhere else but here. Yet, while these circular dry-walled structures are as symbolic a feature as any in the Scottish Highlands, their purpose remains unknown.
What is known is that around 2,000 years ago, local tribes started harvesting local stone to build massive prehistoric buildings with walls 5m thick and stretching 13m high. To date, anywhere from 100 to 500 broch sites have been identified, with the densest concentration centred in Scotland’s northern Caithness and Sutherland counties, as well as the Northern Isles.
While early archaeologists thought that brochs (whose name derives from the Lowland Scottish word for “fort”) were the citadels of local chieftains, more recent excavations suggest that the structures were more likely used for residential rather than defensive purposes.