The Fest. May Be Over – But Here’s More About Brochs

By Bernie Bell

Here’s an unusual one –

St. Michael’s Church, Harray, is built on a Broch!  As in – yer actual Iron Age broch.  If you park in the car park for the church and look across, you will immediately see over the church yard wall, how a ‘mound’ of land, with headstones, stands up above the wall.  If you then go through the small  gate, just to the left of the church, the fact that there is something other than a natural rise in the land  here becomes even more plain.

If you then walk along, through the burial ground, you get a strong feeling of walking through history – there is the broch, below you, and there are all the people buried here, since.  When walking here, do, please, have respect for where you are – for those who lived here, those who are placed here, and those who placed them, lovingly.

Walking through the burial ground, then along and down the steps to the lower burial ground, and looking back – again, the outline of the broch is clear.

This will have been a perfect position for a broch, with a wide, wide over-view of the surrounding area.  And now, a very peaceful place, still with that over-view for folk to stand and appreciate when visiting those they care for.


By Thomas Hardy

My spirit will not haunt the mound
            Above my breast,
But travel, memory-possessed,
To where my tremulous being found
            Life largest, best.

My phantom-footed shape will go
            When nightfall grays
Hither and thither along the ways
I and another used to know
            In backward days.

And there you’ll find me, if a jot
            You still should care
For me, and for my curious air;
If otherwise, then I shall not,
            For you, be there.

The broch hasn’t been excavated, but what did folk find when digging the foundations for the church? And digging the graves for that matter?  Many local houses may hold interesting bits of stone and other objects found here, taken home out of interest, and then – the tale of where they were found might have been forgotten, and the stone just known as  ‘Grandpa’s stone’

Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , , , , , , ,

7 replies »

  1. Thanks Martin – ‘scant info.’, but still of interest!
    What I’m wondering is, how long has it been known as Overbrough? As in, does that name date way back, carrying a memory of what it was, when the actuality had been forgotten?
    I’m also wondering what has become of Mr Firth (the gravedigger’s), “flints, potsherds and animal bones.” ?

      • Thanks again Martin – this is where local knowledge comes into its own. I wasn’t aware that there are a number of Howes in that area, and, though I’ve seen the Pictish stone found at the Knowe of Burrian many time in Kirkwall Museum, I had never placed it – it probably says where it’s from on the label, but I had never put the object in the place where it was found until I read the Canmore link which you have included.
        You might have noticed that my responses tend to be more impulsive than systematic.
        I’ll attempt to lift the relevant section from this article
        But I’ve never yet managed to put a picture into a comment! Here goes……

        “The Picts are famous for their symbol stones – though no-one has any real idea of what these symbols represented – there are animals, birds, mirrors (?) figures, crosses, whirly things………..another ancient mystery…..”
        (Bother- it didn’t work – the picture is there, in the article).

        And the Canmore info. mentions a well – yet another example of a broch with a ‘well’, approached by an impressive flight of steps.

    • In Westray there is “Knowe of Queen o’ Howe”.! I suspect before the designation Howe or Knowe the Orcadian term for a mound was Cuml, of which there are a few named still. All of these could be brochs, but brough often meaning a circular feature surrounded (at least partially) by water. Present definition “an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure found in Scotland. Brochs belong to the classification “complex Atlantic roundhouse” devised by Scottish archaeologists in the 1980s.” Which means a lot of what were called brochs are now seen as other things !!

  2. Ken McElroy of The Caithness Broch Project sent me this……

    Not broch associated, but reading of conversations with grave-diggers reminds me of my Dad’s friendship with the gravedigger at Drumcliffe in County Sligo, Republic of Ireland. That’s a very, very ancient site.
    Dad and his grave-digger mate used to sit in the pub at Rosses Point and tell tales of what had been found in the churchyard – some true, some not-so-true – as Dad’s policy was why spoil a good story with facts.

Leave a Reply