Over the years while visiting brochs, I've had a few thoughts. When you spend time around the Picts and their brochs, sometimes it's easy to envision life with them and understand why they did things, but at other times it isn't. As I've documented each broch here on the website, I've often written my thoughts and musings on the broch pages. Some of my musings are probably not worth reading, but perhaps some of them are. I've encapsulated a few of these thoughts here on one page with a note of which broch I was visiting at the time. I now believe the Picts were European refugees, possibly even Israelites escaping the Roman government. Scotland must have been like the promised land, another land of milk and honey, salmon jumping everywhere, the whole country one huge natural forest, the seas full of fish, no councils, no government, no state schools, no bureaucrats, no police, no legal system, no banks, no taxes, and you could beat paedophiles to death with iron bars and there was no government or police to stop you. Sounds like paradise to me.
Brimside Tulloch broch
For me my theory on line of sight communications extending from the East Coast to the North was proved beyond dispute with this broch. I'm convinced there was line of sight between brochs, cairns and forts all the way from Thurso to Latheronwheel and Lybster. From Crosskirk up on the North Coast you can track line of sight through Tulloch of Lybster and through an obvious missing site at Bridge of Forss to this broch. From here line of sight extends to Tullock of Stemster and Oust, and then to Knock Glass and inland to Loch Calder and Tulloch of Achavarn. From Loch Calder you can track line of sight through cairns to the fort on Beinn Freiceadain above Loch Shurrery and then across to Achingoul. A cairn on the banks of the River Thurso then extends this line to the brochs at Westerdale. Carn Na Mairg, Tulach Beag and Tulach Mor continue line of sight inland through Strath Beag, and I have no doubts this line extended to Greysteil Castle on Loch Rangag then to the brochs in Rumster Forest and then down to the coast at Latheronwheel and Lybster. I'm also convinced line of sight extended from Helmsdale up to the Suisgill broch and then across Sutherland to The Borg and down Strath Halladale to Melvich. Line of sight would also have extended along the North Coast to Wick and down the East Coast most likely to Inverness, which I believe was their southern border. There would have been no requirement for brochs along the Great Glen to Fort William as it would have been impossible for Roman Legions to march across the Cairngorms or the Grampian Mountains, and there isn't really anywhere on the West or North coasts the Romans could have landed to establish a beachhead from which to attack Inverness. Marching from Dundee to Aberdeen and then along the Moray coast would have been their only option, and that is another reason I believe the PIcts built the fort at Burghead and why I also believe that was where the battle of Mons Graupius was fought.
There isn't much left here but a pile of rubble. It's quite sad to realise that just 200 years ago most of these brochs were still standing and were only robbed recently to build roads, stone dykes, and farm buildings. I can understand that a ready supply of free stone would be tempting to use, but I just wish more had been done to preserve some of these important Scottish war memorials. I'm hopeful that perhaps we may even yet pull together as a nation and start preserving what's left of them. These things are the backbone of modern Scotland and it would be a real shame to lose what's left of them to grass, weeds and gorse.
It's surprising to find brochs with so much of the original stonework still standing. It's also surprising to understand that if these brochs had not been plundered of their stone, a large number of them would still be in much the same condition as when they were built. I think we perhaps underestimate the Picts. Not only did they build property that lasted, they were the only nation on earth to stand against the Roman tide and turn it.
During my second visit, I looked around the countryside and scratched my head because I could see no logical reason for the broch to be there. It had no outer defences so it wasn't a military defensive structure like Baile Mhargaite or Kilphedir, and it was rather small so wouldn't have housed many people. As there are so many brochs around the area for people to take refuge in, this one didn't make much sense to me. I asked a friend who was with me if he could see any reason for the broch being there. He looked around, pointed out that we were on an elevated rock on a flat plain and could see for miles in every direction, so it was likely a strategic broch placed for line of sight communications. That stunned me as I then realised that brochs had differing reasons for their construction and were not all built the same. Military and architectural genius working together again.
Allt Na Meirle
There must be a string of brochs up Strath Fleet so word of impending invasion could have been forwarded quickly up the strath to Lairg. The brochs along the coast would have passed word to the East Kinnauld broch, but from there to the Dun above Rhaione there seems to be a break in the chain. There is also a break in the chain between here and Lairg, so lost broch, dun and cairn locations still remain to be searched for and found.
Cairn of Elsay
Amazing site perched on the coast. It is not far from The Pap broch, reinforcing my belief that all brochs in the Highlands were connected by line of sight as communications and intelligence are vital to military victory. Boats could have passed word quickly along the coast, but line of sight is the only possible way the Picts could have passed intelligence quickly overland throughout the Highlands.
Studying the photo below, while taking into consideration the extensive outbuildings around the broch as well as its strategic position, I'm going to suggest that this was perhaps a harbour and port between the mainland and the Orkney and Shetland Islands. The outbuildings have never been excavated so there could be some surprises buried here.
It was also while spending time at this broch, sitting on the stones and looking out over the ocean, that I finally settled on where the Picts had come from. I now firmly believe they were European refugees, possibly Israelites who had fled to escape the Romans. That would also lend weight to the legend that Joseph of Arimathea traveled to Scotland. If he did, then it is entirely possible that Calgacus and Joseph of Arimathea were one and the same person. Joseph was a Pharisee so he would have had sufficient understanding of Roman military strategy and tactics to defeat them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Picts were not savages, they were intelligent, they were organised, they were industrious, they were warriors and they defeated Rome.
Bail A'Chairn (Acharole)
The broch has been excavated but the work was stopped before it was completed and apparently the owner of the land filled the broch in with rubble from elsewhere and finds were not recorded. Why the work would be stopped so abruptly and no finds recorded is puzzling, but I would guess perhaps human remains were possibly found and out of respect for the dead the site turned into a grassy tomb. It's the only logical reason I can think of.
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.
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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?
The broch is sited behind a low hill and this puzzled me until I realised that from the top of the broch you would have had a clear view over Loch Fleet while the broch would have been impossible to see from any Roman boats venturing into the loch at Littleferry.
On my third visit to Baile Mhargaite, with my thoughts on Castle Spynie still fresh in my mind, a friend mentioned that the Picts were probably seafarers. Of course! If they were European refugees they would have been seafarers and would have used boats to get here. They would have also used boats around the coast for transport, trade and passing communications. Rather than travel overland, they could have sailed from here along the coast to Wick, then down to Helmsdale, then across to Tarbat Ness and it isn't far from there to Inverness. With good winds, they could probably make the trip from the North coast to Inverness in a day. Transporting troops around the Highlands by boat would also have ensured men turned up for battle fresh and ready to fight. They may even have been capable of engaging Roman galleons at sea, which would account for why the Romans never established any beachheads in the Highlands. The more time I spend with the Picts and their brochs, the more the big picture comes into view.
An Dun broch, Clachtoll
There is a rather intriguing architectural feature in this broch, a feature I've seen elsewhere, but which I've never commented on. This is my 106th broch bagged over a good number of years, but until now I've never commented on the pyramid stone lintels above the entrances of a few brochs. I've kept my thoughts to myself, and with each passing broch I've thought more about them, and now I feel confident enough to put forward a theory on how they came to be there. You see, I don't think the Picts built brochs with pyramid lintels, I think they were added later. Here is the lintel of Carn Liath broch, near Brora. Note that if fits the broch perfectly, with no loose stones jammed in anywhere, with the orginal walls built around the lintel. The stonework is perfect.
Here is the entrance to Dun Dornaigil. Does the stone fit the broch exactly? No it doesn't. Were the walls of the broch built around this stone? No, they were not. This is a bodge job by someone who moved in long after the PIcts and had the broch altered. The lintel stone doesn't even look contemporary with the rest of the broch.
This is the lintel above the entrance to Caisteal na Colle, or Castle Cole as it's also known, in Strath Brora. Look how perfectly the lintel fits the broch stonework. The walls were obviously built around the lintel. Look at the two stones to the right. Look how perfectly the stonework fits. This is an original lintel.
Here is the lintel above the entrance to the Ousdale Burn broch. Again, see how perfectly the stone matches the broch, and how perfectly the walls have been built around it.
Here is the pyramid lintel above the entrance to Clachtoll broch. Talk about a bodge job? Seems there have been freemasons and cowboy builders around since forever. I do not believe this is the original lintel. In fact, of all the brochs I've visited with lintels still in place, only these two have pyramid lintels, all the others are flat stones. Personally, I think pyramid lintels is just freemason fantasy bullshit.
Dun Beag broch, Skye
I've had a question in my head about brochs for years and I could never come up with a reasonable explanation that would solve the mystery. It's the stairs. They're tiny. And it's the same in every broch. The steps are all so small I can only get the toe of my boot onto them unless I turn my foot sideways. This has always made me scratch my head. Were the Picts midgets or something? Of course, they weren't, so why build such small steps? There was plenty of big stone around. You can see that in the walls. When looking at the stairs in this broch I suddenly realised that they were not built for men, they were built for families. The stairs were built so children could use them. The more I learn about the Picts, the more I love them.
I would suggest that The Borg would have linked up with the Suisgill broch by way of cairns and even possible unknown broch sites so communications could have passed from the east coast to the north coast in minutes.
The last broch I visited was Baile Mhargaite, and not long before that Castle Spynie, and for these last few weeks my mind has been absorbed with the Inverness area perhaps being the southern border of Pictland. Since my visit to Baile Mhargaite I've also been preoccupied with the Picts possibly being a seafaring people. Then last week I learned from a friend in Australia that the Picts had constructed a settlement and a harbour at Burghead. Then I learned that the largest Pictish fort yet uncovered is at Burghead. Archealogists from Aberdeen University have recently been excavating this PIctish settlement and have offered this as a detailed representation of what they have so far pieced together.
Then I remembered that Warren MacLeod's brilliant analysis of The Agricola included compelling evidence pointing to Forres as the site of the battle of Mons Graupius, and as Burghead is only a few miles from Forres, I was overwhelmed with a clarity that stunned me. Here is Burghead in relation to Forres.
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Piecing everything together from the last 15 years while spending time with the Picts and their brochs, this is how I see things currently. Agricola was marching along the Moray coast towards Inverness from Aberdeen. If Inverness fell, the Romans would have taken Scotland. The Picts would have known the Romans were marching from Aberdeen and would have chosen the site for their last stand against them, which I believe is very likely to be the site at Forres indicated by Warren MacLeod.
The settlement at Burghead therefore, would have been needed to cater for the tens of thousands of Picts prepared for war sailing into the harbour from Orkney, Shetland, Skye and the other islands in the Hebrides, as well as the west, north and east coasts. When the Romans marched on Forres, the Picts were dug in on the high ground and were ready for them. This was their Alamo, their last stand. If they fell, Scotland would have been taken by the Romans. Their lives, the lives of their wives and children, and their very way of life would have weighed heavily on them as they faced the Romans across the battlefield. It must have been a ferocious fight with no quarter given on either side.
According to Tacitus the Roman historian, the battle of Mons Graupius was a decisive Roman victory in which the Caledonii army was destroyed and scattered. According to Tacitus, over 10,000 Caledonii were killed in battle for the loss of only 360 Romans. That's what Tacitus claims. Let's look at the facts. After the battle of Mons Graupius, Agricola built no fortresses to consolidate his gains, but instead retreated quickly to his established forts south of Aberdeen. That same year, Agricola was recalled to Rome and was poisoned by the Emperor. Two to six years later, the Romans retreated further south to their fortresses along the Clyde/ Forth isthmus. Not long after that the Romans retreated out of Scotland and cowered behind Hadrian's wall. In 367 AD, the Picts with the help of the Irish invaded England and together they pushed the Romans back from their last defensive positions at Hadrian's wall. Not long after that, the Romans left Britain. The facts speak clearly for themselves. The Picts resoundingly defeated the Romans at the battle of Mons Graupius, and all the evidence points to the high ground between Forres and Burghead as the site of the battle.
One puzzline thing about brochs I've been scratching my head about for years is where did all the stone come from? Hundreds of people out scouring the hillsides and river banks collecting stone has never made any sense. In fact, I think it would have been impossible to build brochs and cairns that way. While pondering this very question while visiting this Armadale Burn broch I think I have finally realised how they did it. As all brochs share basically the same architectural design, were built to specific blueprints and exacting standards, and most of them sprang up over a 200 year period I believe they were built by national construction teams that went around the Highlands fortifying Scotland, with architectural and military genius working together. The military commanders would have picked the sites, then the architects and project managers would have organised their construction. I think the Picts had stone quarries around the Highlands near the coasts and the stone was shipped, unloaded on the shore somewhere, and then carted by mule or horse to the construction sites. The exact numbers of stones and their sizes, including lintels would have been known at the quarries from the type of cairn or broch ordered which would account for why no brochs were left unfinished and why there are no piles of excess stone lying around. After the stone had been landed, the ships or barges would then ship stone to the next site. I can see no other possible way brochs and cairns could have been built with such perfectly matched stones of the correct size and shape.