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Broch of Gurness (Orkney)

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Country: Scotland

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      04.08.2010 17:15
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      Iron Age settlement remains on Orkney

      The Broch of Gurness is located on the east coast of the Orkney mainland. It is one of the many Historic Scotland properties in the islands. Entry is £4.70 for adults, £2.80 for children and £3.80 for concessions. We had purchased two Orkney Explorer passes earlier in the week, which give access to the six sites with entry fees. As my mum chose not to come into the broch as it was an exceptionally windy day, the passes covered entry for me and my dad. Incidentally, last entry is at 5pm. We arrived just after, and tried to open the visitor centre door but it was locked. As we had our passes we weren't worried about going in without paying, although we were keen to get them stamped (each site stamps them with a picture of the site, and we wanted the collection!!). A minute later the warden opened the door to tell us he was closed, but we asked about our passes so he said he'd stamp them for us. What a nice man. The Broch of Gurness is the remains of an Iron-Age settlement. The broch itself was a tall stone tower which would have housed a family, probably several generations, and their possessions and possibly livestock. It had two outer walls with stairs to upper levels. The broch is surrounded by other dwellings, which would have formed a village around it, so the broch was probably home to the head family of the community. Having visited Pictish brochs in Glenelg last year, I was keen to see this one. It is different both in construction and what remains, but just as interesting. The first thing you see on entering the site is the remains of a small house standing alone. This has been moved and reconstructed from its original site, and is known as the Shamrock due to its distinctive shape. Once we moved into the main village I realised that it was very useful to have seen this dwelling on its own, as the rest of the village is not to easy to define. Prior to visiting, I had seen a picture of the broch and village from the air in a Historic Scotland leaflet. I was quite glad of this, as it showed the layout of the village, which was rather difficult to see at first on ground level. The village appears to be a jumble of low rocks and some upright, clearly walls. It is only once you start to focus on the easily recognisable hearths that you are able to distinguish individual buildings. The broch itself also has a number of upright stones inside, which must have been interior walls or partitions. In that respect it was different to the brochs at Glenelg, as there was nothing remaining inside them. This gave me a little more of an idea of he layout of the broch. The remains of the external walls are lower, but more complete - the circle is still complete. There is also what looks like a cellar, which is covered by a modern grille to stop people going down. I had to actually kneel down to peer in, and it looked like stairs going down. Perhaps a storage area - I couldn't find anything on the information boards to tell me. In addition to the settlement, you also get nice views across to the island of Rousay from the site. But you can get that from the car park, so no need to pay for it! The site is not very wheelchair friendly. A wheelchair could go around a short perimeter path and see the broch from the sides, but as there are deep ditches all around the village, it could not access the broch and village. The Broch of Gurness is really very interesting, but my dad and I only spent about 15-20 minutes wandering around. This was in part due to the wind - although we were sheltered inside the broch, we didn't really want to hang about and get blown over. It's not somewhere you need to set aside lots of time to visit, and I don't think we would have paid to go in if we didn't have the passes. It's interesting but not worth the £8.50 it would have cost for us both to go in. I'd certainly recommend visiting it with Orkney Explorer passes, but not otherwise unless you're really interested in the Iron Age. There was a very small shop and visitor centre, but it was closed as we arrived at 5pm so we didn't have a chance to look. It looked like the usual Historic Scotland shop though, the same stuff you'd get anywhere else on the island.

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