Why don't you build the new broch by the Broch Centre at Nybster?
We looked at a site opposite the Broch Centre but considered that the environment was too reflective of modern agriculture, and too many modern buildings were in proximity. The site was considered as part of our long list of potential sites.
The Broch Centre, which is associated with nearby Nybster Broch, is a useful resource for understanding the Iron Age in Scotland, particularly the broch settlements that are characteristic of this period. Nybster Broch itself is an Iron Age broch settlement, predating the Pictish period but thought to show evidence of later use by the Picts. The site includes an Atlantic roundhouse with numerous external outbuildings. The broch is located in a scenic coastal location just south of the Caithness Broch Centre on the A99, with a monument to Sir Frances Tress Barry to the east of the broch.
High Life Highland, which runs the Broch Centre, is a Scottish charity formed in 2011 by the Highland Council. High Life Highland's general remit is to develop and promote opportunities in culture, learning, sport, leisure, health, and wellbeing across ten services throughout the Highlands, for both residents and visitors. Their museums and visitor attractions, including the Broch Centre, are dedicated to conserving, interpreting, and celebrating Highland life and heritage. They offer a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions, covering everything from visual art to contemporary craft, providing a rich and varied experience for visitors.
As the Caithness Broch Project we are often confused with the Broch Centre, not helped by our website being listed against the Broch Centre on Google Maps until fairly recently. The most common enquiry we had was about when the Caithness Broch Centre is open to the public, the implication being that is isn't open that much. Our advice is always to check directly with High Life Highland. As the Broch Project, we have run guided tours to Nybster broch for tourist groups which have included arranged access to the Broch Centre.
It would be our hope in time to absorb the Broch Centre collection into the Caithness Broch Project visitor centre on our own site rather than using the existing facility as a base from which to develop our offering. The building asset could then be repurposed, probably as a domestic dwelling, however we have not discussed this with High Life Highland.
Could it follow the same lines as Guédelon in France so that construction can be seen by visitors as it progresses? Revenue from visitors could then help towards the cost of building.
Indeed, this is exactly our plan! We feel that the build will be at least as interesting as the final broch, and a slower build that is open to the public to view will be a reason for return visits. Once the broch is built, the intention is to build additional prehistoric structures so there is continuous activity on the site.
A visitor centre would be okay but the Project should encourage visitors to explore local facilities and businesses, etc. in the surrounding areas, otherwise people will not come into the villages and this would negatively impact existing local facilities.
We are conscious of the need to support local businesses and attractions while being sensitive to local concerns, for instance traffic and parking. This is a tricky balance to make, and one that tourism bodies are always working on. We are keen to hear about how we can respond to opportunities and concerns.
I can’t see how it’s possible to build using original techniques because of health and safety in today’s society.
Please see the Guédelon project as a similar-but-not-the-same example of how these concerns can be managed in a developed society with a strong health and safety culture. There are also examples in the UK of Bronze and Iron Age buildings that have been constructed using traditional techniques. The broch poses particular challenges because of the height, lifting of stones, and contemporaneous technology available. There may have to be compromises in the techniques used, particularly at scale, however the intent would be, under the guidance of experimental archaeologists, to demonstrate the feasibility of a build process using materials and techniques available to Iron Age residents of the far north.
I think it would attract tourists but surely it’s not a good idea to take café trade away from local businesses.
We agree. The intent is to increase overall visitor numbers and dwell time so we are not dividing up an existing pie but making the pie bigger.
I think you should look into the native ecosystems that would have been present at the time, and also have a project to restore those ecosystems to create a more realistic environment.
We agree! The ecosystem on site at the moment is varied, but already experts from the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso have visited the site and proposed exciting projects to develop a more varied ecosystem. Recreating Iron Age agriculture could also be an interesting project, with the potential to grow crops and some animal husbandry. Perhaps we can make beer from Iron Age grains and sell it to visitors - we have already been contacted by experts in this subject!
I would have preferred the location to be nearer, Wick, Thurso, or as was initially considered John O Groats. Having the opportunity to Site the Broch, it should be sited near / adjacent to other historical places of interest to create a “history hub”. I had always hope that the site of the Things Va would be selected.
We looked at literally dozens of sites around the county, and even one in Sutherland! One site was overlooking Thurso bay near the weird mausoleum by Victoria's Walk (how many people are interred there?). Two sites near John o' Groats were also considered, including on Warth Hill (if you haven't been there, go!). There are historical building ruins on the Flygla site which we intend to leverage to tell a story about life around the time of the Highland Clearances. There are also much earlier sites of interest nearby: Wag of Forss, Hill o' Many Stanes, Rumster Broch, Golsary Broch. Also there is the Clan Gunn Museum & Heritage Centre for some more recent history. There is also the John o' Groat Trail, with numerous historic harbours, bays, and castles.
Siting the broch in, or close to, Wick or Thurso would have tapped into a particular local catchment at the detriment of another. The Latheron site is actually quite accessible from Wick, Thurso, and most villages in Caithness, while being closer than Wick or Thurso to the catchment area stretching down the coast as far as Inverness.
Any additional facilities should be sympathetic to the overall aims of the project.
We have a concept of a modern but, as you say, sympathetic, visitor centre that would be an architectural piece of interest while blending into the surroundings or at least not impacting on the experience of visiting the broch in its pseudo-Iron Age setting. The challenge is the cost of such an architectural venture, however we can dream!
I am visually impaired so please consider, blind and partially sighted people when designing access.
This is a great point. We have a wheelchair user on the committee but no-one with partial sight. We have given some thought to how to make the broch itself accessible, however it is still early days and there will inevitably be challenges. One thing we have considered is how the broch should smell. If it is too realistic it might put people off entering! However it could be a rich sensory experience. See this page for some more ideas about accessibility.
It would be amazing if you could hire out a room in the broch for a meeting!
We think so too! Maybe even for wedding ceremonies! Or how about a high-end overnight stay experience with roast venison and wild story telling!
As a tour guide, I am so excited about this project and we are already talking about doing regular tours to bring tourists to the broch from Inverness, and including on existing tours.
That's fantastic to hear! We are keen to collaborate with local businesses to maximise the opportunities the broch will bring.
Less interested in seeing this linked up to campervan facilities in case it ends up overwhelmed with overnight parking, but day parking areas and a cafe would be good.
This is a valid concern. The number and location of campervans will need to be managed sensitively. It would be good if we could offer a premium overnight experience on the site so we are not competing with a more standard offering.
A platform viewpoint is always helpful to allow people of mixed abilities to get an overview of a site and gain a feel from the outside of its magnitude, knowing that some of the interior will be less accessible; also a great photo opportunity.
We are all about the Instagram moment! Our plans include a viewing platform which may have limited accessibility but this is something we need to think about, and are happy to take opinions and advice. We hope to be able to offer a virtual reality experience on site for those who are unable to enter the broch.
A site such as Camster, Ousdale, Badbea is excellent for education; however, attracting campervans and the nightmare we have to endure since naming the NC500 and its tourists, I do not support. There is no requirement for a cafe, playpark or anything else, for those that simply want to be educated, a toilet is all that's needed to discourage the other unacceptable behaviour we have to endure living remotely.
We would like to explore these concerns more fully. One observation is that pre-historic heritage assets can suffer from too much attention by virtue of their location, access, and vulnerability, whereas the intent here is to provide a replica heritage attraction in a designed manner that would hopefully avoid or at least manage behaviours that are undesirable. A benefit of the chosen site is that it is adjacent to a major road which is able to handle additional traffic generated by the Project.
Less [xxx] vanity projects on your social media channels, and more brochs/history/culture please.
We try to balance sober content with fun content, while always hoping to be informative and educational, or at least engaging. We can't please everybody, but our socials and blog posts are generally well-received, and give opportunities for various members of the Project and non-members to contribute.
By its very nature, a broch is not going to be accessible to the disabled.
Recognising that disabilities come in various forms, there will need to be compromises even for "able bodied" modern humans, not least because they are much taller than their ancestors and require things like emergency exits! The broch is going to be use design features from various extant brochs and some will be educated guesses - read more about the design here and ideas about accessibility here.
I am a strong supporter pending the buy in of local communities in the site location. That said many think this is an under-visited and underrated part of the north Highlands so a visitor boost/employment could be welcome. I do think other additional/income generating facilities would be needed to be available close at hand including indoors to ensure the site is commercially viable and upkeep sustainable for the future. Many of our heritage and culture areas suffer from volunteer fatigue and lack of funding opportunities.
These are good points. Forse of Nature, one of the nearest visitor attractions, is a supporter of the project and we are keen to work with them to create a sustainable offering in the immediate locality. One of our community consultation events was held there and they provided a fantastic venue and refreshments. For the event held at Latheron Hall, cakes were provided by Lybster Community Café. About 5 miles away there is the wonderful 22 bedroom Portland Arms Hotel, and on the way you could stop at North Shore Pottery. Just to name some of the local attractions! (I'll sneak in one more, the Clan Gunn Museum and Heritage Centre.) We also intend to have a visitor centre on site which would offer respite from the heat of the Caithness summer.
I do doubt the line “more time and money spent in the village” when there’s no shops in Latheron.
Maybe the Parish of Latheron is a more realistic boundary to use when we talk about the immediate local area.
Use history as a ship not an anchor and make certain that aspects of the project are as relevant to the lives of people today as possible.
Thank you for this interesting metaphor! We hope that by gathering opinions and being welcoming to new members (of the Project and of the Committee) we will make the Project relevant, interesting and useful to people.
The Brochs didn't have roofs. So if it was built as a roofed structure it simply wouldn't be a broch which undoes the whole point of the project. Imagine building it with a roof and then having to take it off. Please do your research before committing to a roof... there is no evidence of brochs ever being roofed. If you want to see an interesting account of brochs and what they are likely to have been read www.decodingthepictishstones.com
The broch roof has been debated over a long period of time as you have noted in your interesting thesis. The proposed roof we show is the result of years of research and consultation with academics, however it may evolve during the design and build phase (which, as it is an archaeological experiment, will be iterative). Furthermore, it is our intention to present visitors with designs other than the one we finally select, including "no roof" brochs or those with partial inner roofs, also presenting a range of theories for how brochs may have been used (originally and in subsequent occupations).
You need to organise a folk concert
Music and brochs certainly seems like a winning combination!
Regarding additional facilities, I know everything has a cost - but ideally these structures should be in a style sympathetic to the Broch if they are to be new builds. Or perhaps, if there are ruinous farm structures nearby - something which is common enough in Caithness - might they put to use and restored/repurposed? These would have the additional potential of showing the public another aspect of life in the north.
There are ruinous cottages on the site and foundations of larger buildings, however they are probably not of a size that would make a practical visitor building. The intent is to use these structures to illustrate other eras of history. The style of any modern buildings on the site is certainly something we have discussed at length, and I am sure there will be many more discussions to come!
I think - hope - that the NC500 tourists would take the time to pull in and explore the site; approaching from a distance it will be an impressive site which hopefully will spark the interest of those who normally would not care for history and archaeology. To this end, yes, I think campervan parking could be a good idea, but not in a way that is detrimental to the site nor the local environment.
Campervan traffic and parking is a contentious issue - if we do have a park on site it will need to be kept to a suitable scale so it does not detract from the site experience. Screening the car, coach and campervan parking is one option for us to investigate as we get further along with the site design.
Cafe - I would suggest no. Try to force tourists into local cafes.
There are some local cafés, but it would seem mean to not offer some refreshment on site.
Why is Scotland not listed as an option in your list of countries in the survey?
We used a standard list of 257 countries and were capturing postcodes to localise the responses. Apologies to anyone that this approach upset!
In 10 years this will be an eyesore and a monument to the passions of a small number of enthusiasts. I would much rather prefer to visit an original broch than a replica and would urge others to do likewise. I work in education and would always encourage youngsters to original sites.
The Broch Project started by erecting interpretation panels at local brochs and producing a broch trail leaflet. In 2019 we made the Achvarasdal broch more accessible and in 2020 we conserved the broch at Ousdale. Unfortunately most of the brochs in Caithness are little more than grassy mounds due to years of neglect or active destruction. Many of them are hard to access for various reasons. Even so, we have worked to document and map them to make them easier to find.
It is over the top and poorly located. I am a local and we do not need to attract yet more campervans. It would damage the wild land with a huge footprint and unacceptable carbon footprint.
The footprint of the project compared with the scale of wild land in the area is really very small. What is more, we intend to increase biodiversity on the site which is currently used as rough grazing. Regarding the carbon footprint, the government has targets to decarbonise transport and energy production.
I consider that this massive vanity project is completely unsuitable on the proposed site as it will involve grubbing up wild land that is important habitat for a range of rare species. I pass the site every day and amongst the species I have seen are badgers, hen harrier and white tailed sea eagles. Rare bumble bees and invertebrates and amphibians also live in the proposed site. Scotland had the most depleted wildlife in Europe - no wild land should be being grubbed up for something like this project. It can only ever be a seasonal tourist venue at this site, no one will come in the winter months.
We have had two ecology surveys conducted on the site and will continue to investigate the ecology of the site further as we progress. We understand from the local landowners that the badgers live on the other side of the hill. They are omnivorous, can live in towns, and have no predators, but will be responsible for eating voles and rabbits on the site, and will prevent the establishment of hedgehogs. They are most likely to be killed by vehicles on the A9. The site is not really wild land - it is rough grazing and half the site is a designated croft. If anything, we intend to increase biodiversity on the site. The seasonality of the site will be tested as the business model develops. Having been on the site in the warm summer and in winter with the ground frozen, I can testify to its beauty at all times of the year. It may be that it becomes a place more for locals in the winter.
No one I know personally in the local community wants yet more camper vans - local people are sick of them.
Channelling larger tourist vehicles to a site just off a major trunk road is one of the positive points of this site compared with many we have looked at where access along minor roads would have cause problems.
If this project is to go ahead, it should be in or near Wick or Thurso or John o' Groats and built on land that has already been used for other purposes and where tourists already visit.
We considered sites near Wick, John o' Groats and Thurso. There were pluses and minuses to every site we looked at.
The leaflet you have put out shows only the re-built broch, sitting pretty in what you would have us believe is an unspoiled landscape - as though you have somehow put it there by magic. None of the ugly infrastructure and ancillary development is shown - it is totally misleading and deliberately so in my opinion.
The ancillary development has not been shown in the visualisations because it has not been designed yet - our architectural illustrator worked with the information we gave him. In fact, the broch is a small part of the potential "broch village", so the impact on the landscape will be less for many years. The next phase of work will include architectural massing studies which will give a better idea of the overall development. The potential full scale plans were on display at the consultation events in Latheron and received much attention, so there is definitely not a deliberate attempt to mislead. Indeed we have visualisations which were not used in the consultation, like the one at the top of this page, which make the broch look quite wee in the landscape.
For what this is worth, I am disabled to a certain extent. Over the past years I have found disabled access and disabled friendly to be anything but friendly! This is mainly because an "expert" who is not, and has not, had experience of disability has designed accessibility and movement within a venue. Biggest issues are doors, which are impossible to open from a wheelchair, or if using crutches or just plain old arthritic hands, etc. As you are recreating a broch, by sheer definition of what, architecturally, that means, it will never be fully accessible to all. This however could be overcome by an entrance level, virtual, user interactive system, so the user can still take "the tour" and experience what being in a broch could have felt like.
Creating an accessible experience will be a challenge and we expect to engage with "experts" and people with experience of various types of accessibility challenges.
Don't cheapen it with an on site cafe, gift shop, caravan stands!!! It's an Iron Age re-creation, not flaming Butlins 🤬. Local food van be fine enough with open & sheltered seating. Merch in one or two LOCAL shops. No towed caravan parking, period, and height barriers if necessary to exclude campervan - or be prepared to get nasty when they refuse to leave or the parking will turn into an NC500 toilet. Lock the parking overnight & patrol. Tents for 2 nights maybe, locking their cars in on closing time.
If we do have provision for campervans then it will include toilet emptying facilities. The Iron Age re-creation needs to be part of an economically sustainable package - quite what that means in terms of on site facilities and attractions isn't decided yet, but clearly there is a spectrum of opinions and on the campervan issue, strongly held at either end both for and against.
I think building a replica broch is a good idea to increase education and engage with prehistory of Caithness. But I don’t really agree with the additional facilities that are proposed. I think it runs the risk of detracting from the actual broch and I don’t think it is necessary. Also it has the potential to take business from local businesses.
The parking facilities will be kept at a distance from the broch and will be assessed as part of the business plan. The provision of overnight facilities is likely to be a premium and limited experience given the siting.
Looking at the plan I found it hard to understand why the car park was situated at the furthest possible point from all the proposed attractions as well as it being necessary to walk past the campervan site which doesn’t seem to make sense. Also it is a very long distance from the car park to the broch or visitor centre. That would be quite an undertaking for anyone pushing a wheelchair and completely inaccessible for those who might be disabled but not in a wheelchair.
We need to balance keeping the broch in an Iron Age setting with making it accessible. One possible solution would be to have site transport from the car park to the broch. We have had other comments saying the parking should be kept at a distance from the broch.
The site you propose to buy already has history in situ… clearance houses… there is the opportunity to use the site to assist in the teaching of land occupation from all of the past to the present. I think it would be quite distinctive to showcase the Caithness history of land use. Don’t settle for a few eras!!
We totally agree! The site can tell a story of land use over a long period. It can also tell a much wider story of geologprovy and ecology. If you have enjoyed our interpretation panels at Ousdale, you will know that we're not just about brochs.
Tourism already having a negative impact on the area. Parking overnight where they shouldn't, vandalism, destruction of greenspaces by careless tourists, ditching their waste including toilet waste ... this needs to be taken into consideration. Tourism up here is seen negatively because there is no infrastructure to support it and the locals often feel they can't go anywhere in summer as there's no parking and its not a pleasant experience driving around in summer. Whilst I'm for this project to happen, I know there's a few tourists that will spoil things and possibly destroy/vandalise. My village has become a toilet for those who want to "free camp" and nobody in authority seems to care . Caithness and Sutherland is losing its identity to the NC500 ....
One of the principles behind providing a curated broch (and other monuments) experience is to relieve pressure from the genuine articles, where parking is often limited and the environment fragile.
I fundamentally support the project I think what you guys are doing is tremendous. I must say though I am curious about how the site to the north of Latheron came to be selected. A critical aspect of creating more value from the all too often transient tourism is creating reasons to make people stay for several nights instead of just 1. Though I feel the broch can significantly increase interest in the area, in my opinion it would be much more beneficial if it were closer to the main population centres of Wick or Thurso or an existing tourism draw like John o’ Groats. It may also prevent the broch project having to create its own cafe, parking, etc. though I would imagine these would also be revenue generating. Anyway best of luck with it all regardless of location it can only benefit the county.
By selecting Latheron we have not only got a beautiful site which is a destination in itself without a broch, but will create a new stopping point in Caithness. This could mean spending some more time as people pass through, spending the night on site before spending a night at John o' Groats or other location, or being a destination in itself or an icon for Caithness to draw people from far and wide.