When you look at the placement of Pictish Brochs in Southern Scotland, the purely defensive placements of such structures is clearer to see, than at any other Broch site in Scotland. As without the surrounding defensibility of countless mountains, Lochs, straits and Islands, the Brochs of Southern Scotland, and their strategic placement, stand out even more so as a result.
Incidentally, it seems that most southern Brochs are larger than those found in the north also, perhaps as a direct result of having to contend with enemies such as the Romans and Proto-English tribes from the south more so than those further north.
Take for instance Edin’s Hall, which stands atop the northeast slope of Cockburn Law, just above a fairly steep slope down to the Whiteadder Water. Note the haugh (Low-lying land) that compromises all of the southern and western-facing terrain, of which provides views for several miles in both directions (Almost all the way down to the Cheviots!). As mentioned above, the Broch is also situated close to a source of water, and therefor food, as well as a forest, of which would have acted as a screen for miles to the north. The forest of course, would have also served as a ready source of timber, game, and foraging; and all of which would have been easily defensible through proximity to the Brochs strength, the bend in the river, and the vantage afforded by the fortifications height itself.
It is also worth noting that Edin’s Hall is defended by the ramparts and ditches of an even earlier Iron Age Hill-fort, consisting of a large roundhouse in the center, close to the Broch, and a double rampart and ditches surrounding, all of which being enclosed by a larger oval area some 442ft by 246ft, the placement of which can be seen in the satellite image below.
Not a Broch, but worth noting also, are the complex fortifications of Cockburn Law, pictured below, and of which stands roughly a half mile to the south west of Edin’s Hall, and as a testament to the area’s highly defensible nature, evidently valued by the ancient Celtic peoples who inhabited the area previous to their Pictish descendants.
The fort on the summit of Cockburn Law is of an oval plan construction, and measures 360ft by 280ft internally. It is defended on the Eastern side by one rampart, with a wide linear boulder spread, which runs parallel to the foot of the natural slope, which may be a further line of defense thereupon. On the south side, the fort is defended by two ramparts, and by three stone and earth ones on the west and north facing side, giving an overall dimension of 500ft by 380ft. There are three entrances, one situated on the North-West, a West facing one, and another on the South facing side.
Within the interior of the fortifications themselves, of which is guarded by a large enclosing stone rampart, at the highest point, is the remains of a cairn, and north of that, a series of bands made from stones, which suggest huts having been once situated there. At the base of the hill, from the southern entrance, to the northern one, is a row of large boulders that seem to have bordered an enclosure of some type during it’s Iron Age occupation; a sheep fold perhaps? A storehouse of some sort, or a tannery? Or maybe even an area for surrounding civilians to shelter in times of war or assault?
Bow Castle sits atop it’s namesake, Bow hill, on the level ground on the brink of it’s steep southwest facing slope. The Broch has an internal wall some 15ft thick, enclosing a court-like area 32ft in diameter, the entrance of which is situated in the east-facing wall. However, the Broch was originally surrounded by another wall some 15ft thick, with the entrance to the entire fortification situated in the northeastern side likewise.
Further still, are the obscured remains of what might have been even more fortifications, again, on the north east facing side, in the form ditches and walls, which suggests a concentration of strength at the fort’s entrance, and seemingly most vulnerable side. Incidentally, if you look closely at the above ariel photograph, you will notice the gentleness of the aforementioned sides approach, whereas the other sides are somewhat protected by the surrounding steepness, with the northwest side in particular defended naturally by a nearly vertical, broken face.
The placement of the Broch is also telling, for not only does it overlook the Gala water and surrounding forests, but also sits on the western part of a rise that forms a crescent ridge at the head of the Galashiels. A well placed vantage, and easily defensible strength if pressed from any direction North, west, or south of it’s lofty position. There also seems to be a natural pass dividing the crescent ridge in the middle, through which a traveler going east to the higher ground that sits beyond the Broch, would likely need to traverse if he wanted to shave 3-6 miles off of his journey, and this, the fort was also well placed to monitor.
It’s worth mentioning that the surrounding area is also littered with numerous settlements and cairns, concentrated on or near the summits of the many hills that dot the landscape. It seems this area was a hub of sorts during the Iron Age, and it is easy to see why.
Torwoodlee Broch is situated on the site of an earlier Hill-fort on the shoulder of a ridge, over 800ft OD, of which affords the fort extensive views, especially across Galashiels to the Eildon Hills, and is proposed as having been built solely in response to roman presence in the outlying area. Most likely the site was chosen because of the earlier fort already built thereon. And like Bow Castle Broch some two miles north, Torwoodlee was also built upon an easily defensible ridge with easy access to water and timber.
The Hill-fort is an irregular oval in shape, measuring in at massive 449ft by 446ft. Along the Western side, the defenses would have consisted of two ramparts each with an external ditch, traces of which, can be seen continuing around to the North facing side. Unfortunately, both the South and East facing sides of the fort have been destroyed beyond recognition.
Now, whilst the earlier Hill fort is certainly impressive in size and scale, the Broch itself, which lies on the southwest side of the fort, and is built partly on top of the earlier defenses, is a great deal smaller than it’s older counterpart, with a diameter of 76ft, but with an outer wall coming in at a sizable 17ft thick it is among one of the largest Brochs discovered. The inner court, or living space, has a diameter of roughly 39ft, with the entrance on the East side, and a door-check in each wall of the passage leading in. It is reasonable to assume that, although the Eastern defenses are all but lost, being situated around the entrance of the Broch would suggest similar defenses as afforded to the North and West facing sides, if not more so.
Furthermore, this particular Broch is highly unusual in that is was surrounded by a ditch, with a causeway in front of the entrance. Excavation showed this to be V-shaped in section, some 8.8ft wide and 5.2ft deep. An Iron Age moat, of sorts.
The archaeological finds from this Broch also suggest that it was inhabited by a rich, and influential chieftain, with many bronze artifacts, roman coins and loot, as well as native glass armlets having been found within it’s walls.
This Broch is situated within an outwork placed on a rocky promontory on the South side of Ardwell Point, on a narrow spit cut off from the land by a wall, and traversed by a ditch spanned by a built-up causeway. The Broch, comparatively well preserved, with entrances on both the North-East and the South facing sides, and a mural chamber on the Eastern side, with a probable second on the Western. The interior of this impressive Broch measures in at about 30ft in diameter, and is enclosed within a wall anywhere from 12ft in thickness, in the Northeast, to 15ft on the East facing side. A more than adequate defense given the already imposing strength afforded to the fort by the rocky outcrop, and the relatively narrow causeway linking it. I would think that no more than two men abreast could cross it at any given time, and so the defensibility and strategic placement of this Broch really needs no explanation.
The outwork, however, of the surrounding fortifications is compromised of a wall at least 8.5ft thick, which encloses an area measuring 46ft from East to West, by 33ft between the Broch and the North end of the promontory. On the East facing side, the rubble of the outwork merges with that of the Broch itself.
The entrance through the outwork, rather than the Broch, was probably on the Northeast facing side, opposite the aforementioned causeway, which had been constructed across a natural gully some 19ft wide, and 8ft deep, of which cuts off the promontory from the North. The causeway itself is only 6.2ft wide and 3ft high.
Laws of Monifieth
Monifieth Laws Broch sits on the plateau within an Iron Age Hill fort, of which overlooks the Firth of Tay to the south. It should be noted, in the interests of defensibility, that Laws hill, upon which the fortification rests, rises to an elevation of around 400ft above sea level. On the summit, are the aforementioned remains of what had once been a very large and substantial fort. The entrance appears to face South-East.
Originally, the Hill fort was no doubt a small stronghold which, like the others on this list, had been built during the centuries of intermittent warfare. The walls of were likely added to, extended and strengthened as necessity required, until the whole hill-top had been covered by huge ramparts of stone surrounding the central buildings within, where men and stores could be housed, and with space seemingly sufficient enough even for the accommodation of cattle no less, such is the apparent scale of the fortifications.
The site itself, occupies an area of about two acres, having an almost elliptical boundary at a whopping 1110ft in circumference. The length from east to west is about 510ft. It`s position is one of the highest elevations in the district. As a defensive position it was the strongest possible. There was a good water supply from springs, and the walls, of which vestiges remain in the shape of enormous masses of stonework, point to an almost impregnable fortification.
The outside diameter is 64ft, with a wall thickness of 16ft, and an inside diameter of around 33ft. However, despite the fantastic nature of the earlier fort surrounding it, the construction of the Broch itself, is of a poor standard compared to those Brochs found in the north. Yet, despite it’s shortcomings, the site does have clear views all around the Angus country-side, apart from that obscured by the hill to the north. The fort also belongs to the class, vitrified; the stones being bound together by a glaze that could only be produced by a fire so hot, and so long applied, as to fuse the stones until they were connected by a cement resembling melted ore.
Interestingly as well, in mentioning Angus, the capital of Pictland was continuously changing. Each King would make his headquarters in the district where he possessed territory, and where he would be surrounded by those personally devoted to him. Queen Fichem was the wife of King Oengus, (Angus) who reigned from 729 to 762 AD, and who was in residence at Balmossie when she gave the gift of the hall and royal place to the monks, who had with them the relics of St. Andrew. It may be therefore, that Fichem, or Finchem, belonged to some Pictish family of consequence, whose possessions lay in Forfarshire, and whose stronghold was the Laws Fort. Incidentally, the presence of a number of class II and III Pictish stones in the surrounding area, also points to Monifieth having had some importance as an ecclesiastical center to the Pict’s, for the lands were a possession of the Céli Dé monastic order, until they were granted to the Tironensian monks of Arbroath Abbey in the early 13th century.
It should be said, that of all the Brochs mentioned, the Laws of Monifieth has so far yielded the greater amount of ancient artifacts, including a bronze spiral finger ring, which was recovered during 19th excavations, as well as many fragments of tobacco pipes made of clay, not differing much from the modern shape, but clumsier and thicker, along with not only human bones, but articles of daily life including a stone cup, a sword, querns, and iron implements too.
A smoke, a drink, and good fight! How little life in Scotland has changed, it seems…