Caithness Broch Project decided to take action. Working alongside Historic Environment Scotland to produce structural reports – first with Andrew Mennie of Fairhurst and then Addison Conservation & Design – to understand whether the structure was too far gone in terms of damage, or if it could be ‘saved’. Thankfully, it was agreed that it was still possible to consolidate the structure. But we had to act fast!
We set about acquiring funds for the project: this was provided by Historic Environment Scotland's Historic Repair Grant Scheme, Highland LEADER programme and the Beatrice Caithness Community Fund. This was a major scheme of conservation, and £180,000 was raised in total towards not only conservation works, but also the creation of a new car park, trail to the broch, and interpretation panels.
Work began in late 2019, with G Brown Stonemason and Addison Conservation & Design leading the conservation works. Before work began, archaeologists from Clyde Archaeology took a detailed record of the broch, and would be present on-site to watch over the works. Historic Environment Scotland mandated that the broch should be repaired where necessary and stabilised from further decay, but not extensively rebuilt. New material was kept to a minimum.
The conservation works began in earnest with the removal of the rowan tree – bad luck according to some! Though in the event, the base of the trunk and the roots were left alone as they had become one with the stonework. Work could now begin on shifting the rubble from the collapsed buttress. The stone here would be re-used to consolidate the entrance, and to re-build at other key points in the broch, such as at the stairwell in the east, and over the cell roof in the southern section of the broch. Jarrah wood pinning was also used to help consolidate the broch, which is something of a pioneering technique in drystone conservation work.
By early 2020, and after the stonemasons at G Brown battled through some horrible Caithness weather, the conservation works had been completed. At the same time, Berriedale Braes road contractors RJ Macleod had helped to fill in and smooth over the lay-by, as well as creating us a small car park: these works were carried out for no cost – an incredibly kind gesture which helped to ensure that our project would not run over-budget and we offer our gratitude to RJ Macleod for this.
At the same time as the archaeological recording was being carried out, Highland Conservation specialist path contractors helped to create a brand new 1km-long trail down to the broch. This path skirts past the settlement of Borg immediately to the east of Ousdale Broch; a post-medieval clearance village with some intriguing long-house or black-houses style remains. The name ‘Borg’ is actually the Norse name for ‘Broch’, so it’s easy to see why this place is named so!