A record of our ancient Brochs, Hill-forts and Sculptured Stones of Scotland

Nybster Broch


N.M.R. number:- ND36SE56 Highland HER number:- MHG1593   OS Grid Ref:- ND37026314        SCHEDULED



Site Description:-

Nybster Broch squats on a narrow promontory high above the Moray Firth. The site was first excavated by Sir Francis Tress Barry in 1896. He left a monument and photographs of his works. The internal wall and most of the external wall remain well preserved and the grass is usually well-maintained. The broch is the focal structure of the site. An access road is signposted (incorrectly as Harbour Broch) on the A99. It terminates at a car park from which there is a 10 minute walk along a cliff-top footpath to the site. Care must be taken with children and dogs as the edge is close and the drop is vertical for more than 15m.


Major Structural Notes:-

The outside diameter is 19.5m with a wall thickness of 6m with an inside diameter of 7.5m There are no visible intra-mural structures and no scarcement, which suggests that the broch was a single story structure. The entrance passage facing north-east seems narrow because of the wall thickness. The building material of sandstone gives structural stability and lost material has probably gone to later external additions, much of which has been eroded over the cliff edges. Excavation in 2004 showed no sign of intra-mural structures and established that Tress Barry had virtually cleaned-out the inside of the broch.


Associated Structures:-

The outside of the broch is surrounded by a complex layout. This can be best seen on Canmore’s aerial photograph. Further excavations in 2011 tackled first the landward structures and then the seaward structures. The landward side is protected by a thick blocking wall with an entrance in the south-west. Structures were discovered within this wall and there was also evidence for an earlier entrance in this wall. A deep fronting ditch ran down to the southern cliff edge. The seaward side appeared to be composed of cellular structures usually associated with the Pictish period. The expected dig report will update this information.


Site Setting:-

The broch sits on the promontory with its back to the gently sloping agricultural land. A stream, now buried, runs down to the south into the geo. It has commanding coastal views especially to the south and Sinclair BayAccess to a narrow shore-line is down the geo on the north side of the promontory. A safer haven is found just below the car park where there is a fishing bothy. Neighbouring brochs are Ness to the north and the three brochs at Keiss. There is a dun just to the north of the car park and a famous promontory fort site north of that. Lambaholm of the sagas.


Special Mentions:-

The site was re-excavated in 2005 and 2011 under the leadership of Andy Heald and AOC Archaeology with local community support. The broch was the main focus of 2005 and the external structures were the focus of 2011.

Tress Barry’s finds included a variety of quern stones and a long-handled bone comb. The 2004 dig recovered a copper spiral finger ring and a deposit of broken pottery. The 2011 dig part 2 discovered a rare glass bead.


 Sources: Site dig documents, Highland HER and RCAHMS Canmore database and PSAS 35 (1901) p 139-142.