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One of the best preserved broch towers in Scotland. Visitor Centre managed by Urras nan Tursachan (The Standing Stones Trust).

Uniquely Scottish

Dun Carloway Broch is one of the best-preserved examples of a broch – a type of fortification found only in Scotland. There are well over 500 of them across the country, the majority in northern and western Scotland and the islands. Brochs emerged in the Iron Age around 2,300 years ago. They stopped being built in the early centuries AD.

Brochs developed from strong circular houses into tall, imposing buildings. They were drystone structures formed of two concentric walls, with a narrow entrance passage at ground level and small cells entered off the central area. A stone stair corkscrewed its way to the top between the two walls.

One of the finest

Dun Carloway still stands in parts almost 9m high, close to its original height. The collapse of part of its wall provides a perfect cross-section, revealing the characteristic broch design. This was a double-skinned wall with two tiers of internal galleries formed by flat slabs.

The low entrance passage into the broch is at ground level. The passage has a small oval cell in its right-hand side, perhaps a guardroom. Opposite the entrance is another small cell and the door to the stairway that originally rose to the wallhead. On the inside face of the wall, at the level of the lower gallery, is a stone ledge, or scarcement. This ledge probably helped to support a raised floor.  

Who lived there – and when?

We do not know for sure, but the broch was probably constructed around AD 100. Archaeological research (for example at Loch na Berie, also in Lewis, and Dun Vulan, in South Uist) suggests that broch dwellers had a better diet than their contemporaries. They may well have eaten more meat and a wider range of crops and plants. This, in turn, suggests that brochs were high-status dwellings, perhaps of local tribal leaders. A parallel has been drawn with the tower houses of the later Middle Ages.

Around AD 150 brochs fell out of fashion. They were replaced by structures known as ‘wheelhouses’ because of a circular outer wall with internal subdivisions radiating towards the centre like spokes of a wheel. They were not as tall as brochs but had a larger floor area. Wheelhouses have only been found in the Western Isles and Shetland.

Brochs continued to be occupied, however. In 1971, excavation in the ground-floor cell at Dun Carloway showed that it was being used as a pottery kiln until around AD 1000. Tradition holds that in the 1500s the Morrisons of Ness sheltered there during a cattle raid on the lands of the MacAulays, but were smoked out.   

  • The location – on a knuckle of rock with sweeping views over this rugged part of Lewis.
  • The cells and stairway – great for crawling around in.
  • The visitor centre – run by Urras nan Tursachan (the Standing Stones Trust) and providing valuable insights into Iron-Age life on Lewis.