We thought you would be interested to hear from the broch builder himself. For regular readers, no, sadly this doesn’t mean we’ve managed to bring Ug back to life, but Brian Wilson, from Wildland Services in Ullapool, is the next best thing – the masterful stonemason who has been repairing some of the most dangerous parts of the ruin…
‘Our work is certainly varied and unpredictable. It’s not all about grouse-butts and field-dykes; we build houses, barns, sculptures and fire-pits, and repair anything from cobbles to castles. But working on an Iron Age structure is an opportunity that comes along very rarely in a stonemason’s career. To help repair the stonework of a Broch is a fantastic chance for any dyker – not just to be part of an inspiring project, but to see first-hand how it was done two millennia ago; how the Iron Age master-builders used stone to solve practical problems in time and space. To work on a broch is to return to the first principles of masonry; to travel back to a pre-Pictish era when the techniques of serious stonework were first being tried and tested along the Western seaboard of what would much later become Scotland.
‘What were the Brochs for? Well, it seems the jury is still out on that one. But from a builder’s point of view it’s almost as if someone had said ‘Hey, let’s find the limits of this stone-stacking lark! Why don’t we make chambers, stairs, passages, ledges . . . How high do you think we can go?!’ And the results were spectacular, even on the ones which have since partially collapsed.
‘Our remit at Clachtoll was not to rebuild, of course, but to make safe the stonework on various features of the broch as the archaeology team steadily removed hundreds of tonnes of the collapsed material which filled the circular tower, eventually revealing the inner wall and base of the broch. Every visit brought a new challenge – for example, how to build a stone-faced stack, to prevent the collapse of a three-metre tall void, above a major lintel which is itself broken in three pieces, all over a corbelled chamber. Oh, and it has to be recessed, and done in a style obviously different to the broch-build so it can be clearly identified as a repair!
‘Job done for now, and it has been a great privilege to have played even a small part in the preservation of this iconic pre-Scottish monument. It’s been a fantastic project, an inspiring team of archaeologists and volunteers, and a very positive result all round.
‘Meanwhile, we’ve gathered our hammers and are off the next broch south, down the NC500 to Achlochan, Coigach. But already looking forward to the next phase at Clachtoll!’
Thanks Brian, we couldn’t have done it without you!