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Bail A' Chairn, Acharole

Broch (Iron Age)(Possible)

Site Name Bail A' Chairn, Acharole

Classification Broch (Iron Age)(Possible)

Alternative Name(s) Ballacharn

Canmore ID 8805

Site Number ND25SW 8

NGR ND 2281 5171

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Watten
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Caithness
  • Former County Caithness

Archaeology Notes

ND25SW 8 2281 5171.

(ND 2281 5171) Bail' a' Chairn (NAT) Broch (NR) (remains of)

OS 1:10,000 map, (1976)

Broch, Bail a' Chairn: This broch was excavated in 1904 by the late Sir Francis Tress Barry but was filled in by order of the proprietor before its exploration was completed. In 1910, the remains consisted of an oval mound, aligned E-W, rising to a height of about 18ft, the whole of which was deemed to be to some extent artificial. A terrace or glacis, 12 to 14ft wide, ran around it falling from a height of up to 9ft on N and S to about 3ft at the ends. Its N edge was defined by a wall or stony rampart up to 10 ft wide at its base. The broch ruin, 108ft E-W by 78ft transversely, rose above the terrace to a height of 9 1/2ft on N and S and 14ft at E and W ends.

The excavation of 1904 showed the broch itself to have a diameter of about 30ft within walls 14ft thick, rising to a height of 10ft. Within the N and S walls, with opposing doorways, were stair-passages both rising to the right, the S passage extending to the left of its doorway to form a chamber 33ft long, lit by a tall narrow window and having two 'cupboard' recesses.

RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910.

As described by the RCAHM. No broch walling evident.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (N K B) 22 November 1965.

No change to the previous field report.

Visited by OS (J M) 11 March 1982.


Publication Account (2007)

ND25 1 ACHAROLE ('Baile a' Chairn') ND/2281 5171

A probable ground-galleried broch in Watten, Caithness, which is now a conspicuous grassy mound on flat land with stones protruding through the turf (the Gaelic name means 'the farm of the Cairn': visited 13/7/63). It was almost completely excavated in 1904 by Sir F Tress Barry, MP, and the only available plan [2] was apparently made, together with many others, by John Nicholson of Lybster (information received with gratitude from Andy Heald). The broch was filled in again before the excavation was completed by the order of the proprietor; there seems to be no record of the finds.


The site is now an oval mound up to 5.5m (18ft) high with a terrace or glacis 3.6-4.2m (12-14ft) wide running round it. The outer edge of this on the north was defined by a wall or stony rampart up to 3.0m (10ft) wide at the base. The broch itself thus seems to have been built on a flat-topped platform, presumably artificial; this 'mound on mound' appearance is clear in the 1910 photograph [2, pl. XLII] .

The entrance passage was on the east and had been extended outwards through a sort of added casing wall for a distance of 6.7m (22ft); there was a door-frame in this secondary passage 1.53m (5ft) from the outer end and probably also another one 4.27m (14ft) in; about 1.53m (5ft) in from the outer secondary door was a guard chamber on the right side but none of these details are shown on the plan. This secondary entrance was about 60cm (2ft) wide at the outer end widening to 1.2m (4ft) where it abutted against the broch wall.

The original broch doorway was 4.27m (14ft) long and 90cm (3ft) wide at the exterior. A pair of door-checks, apparently built of slabs set in to the passage walls, was 3.3m (11ft) in from the exterior, and thereafter the passage widened to 1.2m (4ft). There were lintels in position over most of the passage, at a height of 1.65m (5.5ft) above the floor.

At 9.30 o'clock in the interior was a lintelled doorway in the wall 61cm (2ft) wide and 1.37m (4ft 6in) high which lead to a 7.63m (25ft) long flight of stairs rising to the right: the sill of the doorway was 61cm (2ft) above the broch floor. A stretch of ground- or near ground-level gallery 10.07m (33ft) long ran anti-clockwise (away from the stair) from this doorway towards the entrance passage; it was partly lintelled and had a window or void leading to the interior (not on the plan).

At about 3 o'clock was another doorway into the wall – 60cm (2ft) wide and 1.53m (5ft) deep – leading to a second stair (neither are shown on the plan), which also rose to the right. The maximum height of wall preserved was 3.05m (10ft). Two aumbries or recesses were found in the inside wallface, and upright flagstones had been set up in the central court, against the wall to the left of the main entrance and immediately in front of it.


The lack of a clear description of the structural features, and the absence of any contemporary photographs of the excavations, makes it difficult to be sure what type of broch this was, but the long stair-foot gallery may well indicate that the structure is at least partly ground-galleried. On the other hand the rest of the wall base may still be solid as at Carrol.

Dimensions: internal diameter c. 9.0m (30ft): wall 4.27m (14ft) thick at entrance so external diameter may be about 17.39-17.69m (57-58ft). The wall proportion would thus be about 48-48.5%.

Sources: 1. NMRS site no. ND 25 SW 8: 2. RCAHMS 1911b, 127-9, no. 466, fig. 30 and pl. xlii.

E W MacKie 2007


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