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Secondary entrance and intra-mural cell

Original and secondary entrances and inner wall

Intra-mural cell

Broch plan after Anderson

The debris mound of the Broch of Yarrows (ND 308 435), or Yarhouse as it was then known, was thought by Rhind to be a chambered cairn; an opinion fostered by orthostats that protruded though the mound surface.

Anderson's excavations of the 1860s revealed the mound to be the remains of a broch, a high status Iron Age dwelling (1). The orthostats, noticed by Rhind, proved to be the roof supports of two later aisled buildings, known in Caithness, as Wags that probably date to the Pictish period. Anderson's excavations also revealed several small cellular buildings cut into the rubble mound of the earlier Broch. This cellular form of dwelling is also consistent with the Pictish period, which is taken to begin after the decline of the brochs during the second or third centuries AD.


The broch itself is circular in plan and still stands 15 m high having 4 m thick walls enclosing a 10 m diameter living area. It can be seen as an example of the ultimate expression of the Iron Age complex round house that would have been built and occupied by the foremost families of the period. It contains all the elements of true broch architecture namely; intramural cells at ground floor level and steps ascending to the galleried double wall of the upper works. Although most brochs have only a single entrance, two can be seen at Yarrows. The second entrance may not be original and may have been inserted into the broch wall at a later date, taking advantage of the thinner wall associated with an inter-mural cell that gave access to the intra-mural stairway.


This cell now has the appearance of a guard cell, a feature of many broch entrance passages, suggesting that this was the original entrance. This interpretation is misleading however, as indicated by the steps that are not accessed from broch entrance passages.


The east facing entrance was probably the original one; the majority of roundhouse entrances face towards east. At this point a long curving passage, once roofed by slabs, may have functioned as a Souterrain during the later use of the broch site and may be broadly contemporary with the insertion of the second entrance.


A further late edition to the broch was the insertion of a wall concentric with the broch interior wall face. This wall should not be confused with a scarcement, a ledge integral with the inner broch wall thought to be for the support of floors or other internal structures. This wall may have been built to support a roof built over the ground floor after the upper story of the broch had gone out of use and which may have been deliberately reduced in height. This later phase was probably used in conjunction with the external aisled buildings. This suggested sequence of use might be better understood by reference to Anderson's excavation plan accessible from this node.

The use of Yarrows broch did not cease with the abandonment of the site as a settlement. The bones of at least five people, found by Anderson, suggest that the mound was used intermittently as a place of burial for many centuries. An annular brooch dated to the fourteenth century AD suggests a medieval date for at least one of these interments. These finds are not unusual, as already stated, secondary burial in existing mounds is known from the Bronze Age onwards and it appears to have continued throughout much of the historic period.

(1) Anderson J 1890 'Archaeologica Scotica 5' p 131 to 142.

The Broch is the last monument on the trail, from here the path leads back to the car park.

Original entrance

The Broch of Yarrows

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