“ Dun Carloway, also called Dun Charlabhaigh, is a remarkably well preserved broch in a beautiful location overlooking Loch Roag on the west coast of Lewis. „
A broch is the name given to a type of Iron Age stone structure that are unique to the Scottish Highlands, and in particular to the Isles of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Their original purpose was probably a mixture of a defensive structure and a grand dwelling for a noble within the community. The broch at Dun Carloway on the north west coast of Lewis is one of the best remaining examples to be found.
The broch is circular in shape and constructed from local stone. There is no cement between the stones but instead it has been built using a similar method to that used in the building of the dry stone walls that you see in the countryside. The other notable feature is that the structure is hollow, although it is thought that there might have originally been a roof.
There is a signpost to the Dun Carloway Broch from the A858, which is the main coastal road around the north and west of the island. It is located in close proximity to several of the other attractions on the island (Gearrannan, Callanish Stones etc) so the broch is a very popular tourist attraction and it has the distinction of not only having a mention on the road signs but also having its own visitor centre.
The visitor centre is located next to the car parking area and is a strange complex in itself, dug into the side of the hillside. It's only small and can only hold about 10 people at a time but thankfully even the popular tourist attractions on Lewis seldom receive this many visitors at once. Information on the Dun Carloway Broch can be found here including some photos of it over the past few decades as well as artist impressions showing what it would have looked like in its heyday. There is also some information on some of the other brochs on the island. The visitor centre is open daily expect Sunday (when the whole island is closed) but since there is no admission charge to visit the broch it is still possible to visit here even on a Sunday but not the visitor centre. The visitor centre is run by Urras nan Tursachan who also look after the nearby standing stones at Callanish although the broch itself is now in the care of Historic Scotland.
The broch is visible from the car parking area but it does require a short walk of around 200 metres to reach it. This is along a narrow footpath but it is quite flat and should be suitable for wheelchair users with care. From a distance it is the eastern side of the broch, which is visible. This is the best preserved part of the structure and stands like a round tower on top of a small grassy mound. Its position on top of the mound certainly adds weight to the theory that the broch originally had a defensive role but most historians believe nowadays that they were principally a dwelling rather than a fort.
It is incredible to think that this building is almost as old as the Great Pyramid of Giza although opinion varies regarding its actual age. It was probably build around 1800BC so that makes it around 4000 years old, yet it is in a remarkable condition. Carbon dating has established that it was last occupied around 700 years ago.
As you approach the broch the footpath swings round to the western side and it is at this point that you notice that it is hollow. The diameter of the base is approximately 15 metres across and the walls 3 metres thick. The entrance is through a narrow door on the western face that is only around a metre high, making it necessary to crawl through it on your hands and knees if you want to go inside.
Once inside the broch you will see looking upwards that there was originally two floors. Neither of the upper floors now exists but at either end of the base there is a set of stairs that wind up the circumference of the building and these would have given access to the upper levels. The stairs at the northern end are more or less intact and you can almost climb to the top of the broch but the ones on the southern face have crumbled away about half way up. The stairs are constructed from solid stone and have worn smooth over the centuries so you need to take care but they are in no worse condition to the stairs to the towers of some of the castles I have visited. If you are able to climb the stairs then it is well worth the effort as it is only from the top that you can really appreciate the view. It is also possible to look down into the broch from above and see it all from a very different perspective and even peer out through the long narrow windows.
The broch is over 8 metres tall and would have originally housed not only a family but also their animals too. The animals would have occupied the lower floor whilst the people lived above. If you imagine the other two floors still being there then this would have been quite a large dwelling although it is not known for whom it was originally built.
Before visiting Lewis I had never knowingly seen a broch before but since my visit to Dun Carloway I have seen several and I have also realised that some of the small ruins I had encountered before and dismissed as small castles were actually brochs.