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Field Visit

Date 28 April 2010

Event ID 614135

Category Recording

Type Field Visit


Dun Telve, one of the best preserved brochs in Scotland, stands on the N bank of the Abhainn a’Ghlaine Bhig, in the lower reaches of Gleann Beag. Although it has been subject to robbing, consolidation and detailed recording, and was ‘cleared out’ as late as 1914, the broch has never been archaeologically excavated, and much of our understanding of its date, function and construction is based on similar structures elsewhere, including Dun Troddan (NG81NW 6), which lies 470m to the E. The structures appended to the W and NW sides of Dun Telve include at least one rectangular building.

The broch now comprises a ruinous drystone tower which measures 18.3m in diameter over a wall up to 4.3m in thickness at the base and 1.2m at the top on the W and NW, where the walls stands to a maximum height of 10.2m. The entrance is on the W but it has clearly been modified, probably in the mid 19th century, a fact noted by Henry Dryden in his survey undertaken between 1871 and 1873 (IND 199/5/cn). A ‘guard cell’ is set within the thickness of the wall immediately S of the entrance passage. A doorway on the N side of the interior of the broch provides access first to an intra-mural ‘cell’ and then to an intra-mural space that narrows as it rises through to the top of the surviving wall. This space contains a series of galleries characterised by flat slabs that form the floors and ceilings.

At three points at least, but probably originally more, the inner element of the broch wall is punctuated by a vertical gap traversed at regular intervals by horizontal stone slabs, many of which are cracked, missing or supported by modern steel bars. Two of these vertical gaps rise directly from the openings in the ground floor, but the third, which is situated midway between the other two, rises from a height of about 4m. The exact function of these gaps is unknown, but they may have been designed to relieve pressure on the wall. The primary function of the galleries was probably also connected with ensuring the strength and stability of the wall, but they would also have provided storage space as well as access to the wall-head and roof.

Two scarcements or ledges have been incorporated into the inner face of the broch wall, one at a height of 2m, the other 9m, both formed by the projecting ends of long slabs that run through the whole thickness of the wall. The lower scarcement may have supported a timber floor; the upper probably formed part of the support of a roof.

Although it had been robbed for stone in 1722 (probably for the building of nearby Bernera Barracks (NG81NW 5), Dun Telve was popular with tourists by the late 18th century (Pennant 1774, 337; OSA Vol.XVI p265). It was first sketched in the late 18th century and was subsequently surveyed in detail by Henry Dryden (1871-3), whose drawings indicate the depth of ‘rubbish’ in the interior as well as areas of ‘modern repair’. The building was brought into state care in the late 19th century (between 1882 and 1901) and the contemporary boundary markers that define the area of guardianship are still visible. Parts of the ruinous upper section of the broch were probably consolidated at this time (recent pointing is visible on Erskine Beveridge’s photographs of c.1897). By 1910, timber shoring had been renewed and around 1914 a more permanent programme of works was undertaken by the Ministry of Works. This included ‘clearing out’ the interior, inserting concrete into the upper intra-mural space and pointing the internal wall-face. The building and the artefacts recovered during this process were subsequently described by Alexander Curle (1916). Since then, there have been a number of photographic surveys and the site has been described several times, particularly as a result of the resurgence of interest in brochs in the 1960s. In 2010 further conservation work was undertaken by Historic Scotland and new interpretation panels installed.

Visited by RCAHMS (GFG) 28 April 2010.

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