The Fascination of Mystery

Scotland has a proliferation of ancient sites that inspire wonder and curiosity. Many are well documented attractions today, with information boards and entrance fees, selling their guides, souvenirs and coffee. But I’m drawn to the wayside ones that at the most, have only a parking lay-by.

The crumbling tower in the picture is a broch, which I first stumbled across when looking for somewhere to park when climbing Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro. I recall that after the hill walk, I came intrigued to this double-walled, round tower, wondering about its history. Who built it and how long ago and for what purpose? Those sort of questions ran around my head until I started some research. There aren’t answers to all these basic questions which, for me, heightens the fascination. What can be more or less accurately stated though is that brochs are unique to Scotland and were largely built between the first century BC and the first century AD. With a number of theories proposed as to their use. It’s up to you to decide whether these were defensive towers, a place to safe keep your grain and livestock, or the status symbol of an eminent person? There are 571 brochs distributed all over Scotland, but the majority of them are in the north and on the islands.

It‘s to these far lesser visited attractions that I like to take people. Not just brochs, but Iron-age hill forts, Celtic chapels with their ornately fashioned stone slabs, Pictish symbol stones, standing stones and burial cairns. An atmosphere still lingers about these ancient places, filled with the mystery of their beliefs and values. I like to ponder these things and to hear what visitors make of them. The encounter will make you walk that more slowly back home, enthralled by the effort our forebears went to in creating such monumental feats of work.

martin haworth