Castle Spynie broch

The broch is sited on a rocky knoll with natural defences, and appears to have outworks surrounding the site There isn't much left of the broch, but you can still see original courses of stonework in the exterior wall as well as a couple of chambers.

I parked on the single track road near Crockanord and used the OS map with GPS on my mobile phone to find the site. I'm really not sure I would have found it otherwise.

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.

An interesting broch indeed. It is built on high ground along with two forts which together form all round defence over the high ground. I visited both fort sites as well, and between the three sites there are commanding views north over the Beauly Firth, east to Inverness, and south and west over the countryside. There are also other forts and many cairns and duns within marching distance east, west and north. What I found particularly interesting was that from this major defensive position south there isn't much in the way of brochs at all anywhere, and I couldn't help thinking that perhaps this was the fortified southern border of Pictland.

The three fortified positions not only serve to cover the high ground, but they are all sited on rocky outcrops making them formidable fortresses to assault, while they cover each others backs and serve as fall back positions should one position be overrun. With the sheer numbers of cairns nearby, there could have been hundreds of Picts manning these positions, while thousands more were within easy marching distance.

While pondering all this, I realised more than ever how important communications must have been to the Picts. As brochs, duns, forts and cairns are in line of sight up the east coast and probably to the north and west coast of Sutherland, communications could have been sent quickly around the Highlands. However, these communications would have been limited to perhaps word of Roman sightings or landings. It was while looking out over the Beauly Firth from one of the Forts that I began to think in terms of far more detailed communications. Horses perhaps? I didn't like that idea as horses would have required stables sited around the Highlands so word could travel quickly. That didn't make sense to me really, and there are no indications of any stables around broch sites. Then it occurred to me that it wouldn't take long at all for runners to sprint from broch to broch carrying news, somewhat like a relay race, passing the baton to another runner at the next broch. Word could probably have gone from Inverness to Wick in 6 or 7 hours with men sprinting in relays, which is probably just as fast as horses could manage. This all points to a headquarters where military decisions were made and from where orders were sent. Should Roman galleys be sighted off the Caithness coast, word would reach Inverness in hours, orders could then have been sent out around the Highlands and the PIcts could have marched to the North coast in their thousands within a day or two. It's all conjecture, yes, but it makes sense. How else do you communicate over long distances without internet, radio or phone?

*edit* I've since amended this comment since realising the Picts were seafarers.

Castle Spynie broch photographs

Castle Spynie 01

Castle Spynie 02

Castle Spynie 03

Castle Spynie 04

Castle Spynie 05

Castle Spynie 06

Castle Spynie 07

Castle Spynie 08

Castle Spynie 09 

Castle Spynie 10

Disclaimer: Some brochs were built with military defensive purpose, and as such can be situated in extremely dangerous areas, such as on the edge of cliffs and ravines. Additionally, these are Iron Age structures, most of them in ruins, and they are extremely hazardous, with crumbling stone walls and hidden chambers. Existing walls, lintels, and passages could collapse at any time. The information here is provided free but it is your responsibility to ensure its accuracy, ensure your own safety, and acquire permissions for access where necessary. Accessing brochs is done entirely at your own risk.