The Castle of Brough
CBP's young volunteer Joy Rollinson takes on a 'Brough' of a different nature, and discusses the subject of Brough Castle, a little-known castle in Caithness!
The Castle of Brough is a little known archaeological site on the coast of the small village of Brough in Caithness. It was the site of a medieval castle, located on a promontory bordering onto the Pentland Firth. The site’s appearance currently has very little to suggest of its history. It appears as a collection of grass covered mounds and ditches along the scenic walk of Langypo.
While there have been no excavations at the castle it is an undoubtedly significant site which would have been a dominating part of the landscape in the medieval period. Nearby the castle there is recorded to be a medieval rig and furrow (an old method of ploughing) which suggests also that the land around the castle was actively used either when it was constructed or while it was in use. The layout of the castle when it was standing has been described to have been two sets of buildings along the sides of the site which were separated by a central passageway. The site is accessed by a ditch which separates it from the mainland, and has panoramic views of the Orkney Islands.
There were two field visits to the site in the 1980s, one by C. Batey and the other by R. Lamb. Batey described that there were grass covered remains of foundations at the site and created an illustration of the site layout.
Despite the lack of archaeological analysis at the site, comparisons have been made between other promontory castles nearby, such as the Castle of Old Wick and Borve Castle. Brough Castle has been described as similar to the Castle of Old Wick in being separated from the mainland by a ditch, and having the same size and layout of buildings. Lamb suggests that the characteristics of the keeps at the three castles, where they stood beside the approach, may be Scandinavian. Unlike at the other sites, the keep at the Castle of Old Wick is still standing. The site’s similarity to the Castle of Old Wick has been used by Andrew Spratt to create a reconstruction of the site. The reconstruction allows us to visualise what the castle may have looked like. It is clear that what is now a collection of unrecognisable mounds were once very dominating, potentially a place used for defence and/or residence.
The castles importance to the village of Brough can still be evidenced. Lamb stated that the site being close to Brough led to the robbing of cut stones, and it is thought by residents that some stones from the castle were used in the building of the houses nearby.
Like many sites in Caithness, the place name associated with the castle can give us possible clues to its significance. D. Waugh has analysed place names in Caithness including Brough. One of the terms that Brough derives from is the Old Norse term ‘borg‘, meaning a fortification. The spelling of Brough is also described to have been influenced by terms such as ‘broch’ and ‘borough’.
Information about the castle remains vague, with an unknown history but one that was undoubtedly important. The site may not appear very interesting on appearance but was no doubt important during its time, built for a specific purpose and a great part of the landscape. It will once have been a very prominent part of the village, and it’s impact is embodied in the buildings nearby and in its name.
Sites that do not at first appear very promising can contain lots of information about those who inhabited the site and also those who investigated it (this has been shown by the work at Coghill Broch which you can read about on the CBP Facebook page)
Batey, C. E. (1984) Caithness Coastal Survey 1980-82: Dunnet Head to Ousdale [online]. Durham University: Department of Archaeology. Available from <https://her.highland.gov.uk/Source/SHG1958> [26 February 2022]
Lamb, R. G. (1980) Iron Age promontory forts in the Northern Isles [online]. Oxford: BAR Publishing. Available from <https://her.highland.gov.uk/monument/MHG1591> [26 February 2022]
Richmond, R. W. (2002) Brough Castle, Caithness [online]. Available from <https://www.caithness.org/caithness/castles/brough/> [26 February 2022]
Waugh, D. J. (1985) The Place-Names of Six Parishes in Caithness Scotland. [PhD thesis] [online], University of Edinburgh. Available from <https://era.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/7355?show=full> [5 May 2022]