The Mystery of the Ousdale Broch Mannie!

By Bernie Bell

Pics courtesy of the Caithness Broch Project

Ousdale Broch, Caithness was in a bad way – not surprising after about 3,000 years of Highland weather…..

The good people of the Caithness Broch Project  decided to restore it, and set about doing so.  A lot of planning, hard work and determination later……

…and Ousdale Broch can now be imagined as something like the living-space it once was…….

It’s open to the public – with access by a good track, information boards, and heart-lifting views to be had……

One thing which particularly appealed to me was the care taken when restoring every part of the Broch. 

There was a Rowan tree growing out from the wall which, if allowed to stay, would pull the stones apart and cause damage.  This tree was carefully sawn off flush with the stones, leaving a shape which is akin to art-work – I suppose it is – Nature’s art-work.

Then Iain Maclean carved a section of the trunk of the tree into a head – reminiscent of ancient Celtic stone heads, and inspired by the Ballachuish goddess. One of the oldest intact wooden object from the archaeological record. Found in a bog near Ballachuish dating from about 600BC. 

Iain’s carving became known as The Ousdale Mannie, and was placed in a niche in the wall of the broch…..

…as objects – either domestic or ‘special’ – might have been placed when folk lived there.

Ousdale Broch then had some problems with fly-tipping.  Taking as read the wrongness of fly-tipping generally – why on earth did people go all the way to a site such as Ousdale, to dump their old tables and plastic bags?

The Caithness Broch Project put out an appeal for funds to buy some CCTV cameras and put them in place to try to stop the ‘tippers’, but before the cameras were rolling, some defectives stole The Mannie!

I don’t apologise for calling them defectives, and would like to point out that these are my words – not representative of the views of the CBP.

You would think that people who have enough interest in archaeology/culture/beauty to go all the way to Ousdale Broch, would have enough respect to not steal what could be seen as a representation of the Spirit of Place.

Personally, I suspect that the Spirit of Place, or of the Rowan Tree, will sort them out. 

To quote Nell Flaherty on the theft of her drake… “Bad cess to the robber, be he drunken or sober.”

If the robber – or folk who know who the robber is – read this, maybe it would be a good idea to quietly return The Mannie to his rightful home?  You’d better do it soon though, as the cameras should be in place any time and will hopefully put a stop to miscreants/reprobates/ dingbats and eejits going there to leave their rubbish and remove what is not, in any way, theirs to take.


To finish on a positive vibe…..hope for the future of Ousdale Broch!

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    Orkney Archaeology Society are having a Brochtoberfest this year! They have a week of virtual events arranged which they will be publicising SOON!!!

  2. More news of Ousdale, from the Caithness Broch Project Newsletter….

    Ousdale Tour!

    Get involved with the Highland Archaeology Festival

    We are delighted to get involved with this year’s Highland Archaeology Festival with a new event!

    Join co-founder Iain Maclean on Saturday, October 9th, at 12pm for a tour of Ousdale Broch and the surrounding historic environment.

    Learn about battles, bandits, bones and brochs in the incredible environs of Ousdale, just south of Berriedale. A perfect way to enjoy one of Caithness’ premier archaeological sites!


    To book your spot, please just email us on:

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