Reviving Ousdale Broch

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After an almost complete collapse, the Ousdale Broch has been expertly restored. CREDIT: Caithness Broch Project

A recent conservation project has breathed new life into an Iron Age broch in northern Scotland.

The Ousdale Broch, just south of Berriedale in Caithness, used to be considered one of the best-preserved brochs in the region. At some point between 2013 and 2015, however, a calamitous combination of damage from ill-judged antiquarian repairs – made in 1891 following an excavation of the site by James Mackay – and a tree growing between the broch’s walls led to the complete collapse of one of the buttresses. This subsequently led to the destabilisation of the entire construction.

When Iain Maclean and Kenneth McElroy, both of the Caithness Broch Project (CBP; see CA 322), visited in 2015, they were shocked to see just how much damage had been done. As Kenneth described it: ‘We thought within a few years it might be lost forever.’

To save the broch, the CBP – with funding from Historic Environment Scotland’s Historic Environment Repair Grant Scheme, the Highland LEADER Programme, and the Beatrice Caithness Community Fund – sought to repair the structure and restore it, as best as possible, to its former glory. They also used the opportunity to reimagine the site with new information for visitors.

Work began on the project at the end of 2019 and it was expected to be completed in early 2020, but, after a year disrupted by COVID-19, the project was finally finished in October of last year. Not only has the broch now been saved from potential ruin, but there is also a new walking trail, interpretation panels, and a car park. These will both provide easier access to the site and allow its history to be better appreciated by visitors.

Robin Herrick, CBP chairman and project manager for the Ousdale Broch project, said: ‘The stonemasons worked through the winter which meant dealing with cold and some inclement weather, but no midges! The Broch Project team worked hard to deliver this project for the local community and visitors, and we hope that people will enjoy the new trail and spruced-up broch for many, many years to come.’

This news article appears in issue 372 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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