A record of our ancient Brochs, Hill-forts and Sculptured Stones of Scotland
Whitegate Broch (Keiss)
N.M.R. number:- ND36SE6 Highland HER number:- MHG1645 OS Grid Ref:- ND35416120
Whitegate Broch stands low above the shoreline of Sinclair’s Bay. The site was one of up to 24 in the area which were excavated by Sir Francis Tress Barry towards the end of the 19th Century. Today’s visible walls were first exposed by his explorations which were not back-filled. The site is obscured by grass and weeds so care must be taken when investigating the structures. The entrance passage which faces SE extends through an external ‘village’ which around the south and eastern quadrants. Access is from Keiss Harbour road after careful parking, crossing the stream and passing Keiss Harbour Broch en route. Livestock may be present although the broch site is safely fenced off for its protection.
Major Structural Notes:-
The outside diameter is almost 16m with a wall thickness of about 4m with an inside diameter of nearly 8m. The entrance passage has no guard cells and there are none of the ‘normal’ intra-mural wall cells or galleries. Tress Barry’s excavations uncovered a platform within the inner wall in the north-west and several divisions of the inner space into cells. Overlying this he found what appeared to be a rectangular structure aligned north-west/south east to the entrance within and across the centre of the broch. These were phases of later constructions whose sequence was explored by excavations in 2006/7 lead by Andy Heald and AOC Archaeology with Caithness Archaeology Trust. This partnership went on to explore the external structures in 2008.
Within the broch were the above mentioned structures bordered by orthostats of Caithness slab. A flat slab was found to be covering a 2m deep boat-shaped ‘well’ feature in the north-west quadrant with organic remains which were retrieved for examination.
A trench across the north-east wall looking for evidence of intra-mural structures revealed an unusual cell with no access passage.
Within this space were found bone remains of several animal species along with human bones.
There is a complex of external structures within the protection of the fence. A dig investigated these to the east of the extending entrance passage. The drain out of this passage went below these, establish a sequence. It was still clear for many metres almost to the fence line. A cist was found inserted into these eastern structures. There are more structures outside the fence and they show up particularly well on the RAF 1991 aerial photo on Canmore.
The broch sits just above the shore-line with excellent views out to sea and up and down Sinclair’s Bay.
Fresh water is available from the stream beyond the Harbout Broch. The gently-sloping surrounding land is the fertile Caithness coastal soil based on the Old Red Sandstone. The nearest broch towards the harbour is surprisingly close and there is a further broch complex, excavated by Sir Francis Tress Barry on the main road (A99) beside Keiss Graveyard. Nybster broch is further up the coast and there is another at the south end of the bay close to the oil pipeline facility.
The unusual wall cell is unique in this study so far and the further examination of its contents and those of the ‘well’ may give some dating evidence. Dating techniques first used on terminal moraines of New Zealand glaciers were used to establish a construction date for the broch main wall and results are awaited.
Sources: Site dig reports (Heald, Barbour, Henderson and Cavers). Highland HER and RCAHMS Canmore database.