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

Northfield East Broch (Burray)


N.M.R. number:- ND49NE1                                         OS Grid Ref:- ND48979881        SCHEDULED



Site Description:-

Northfield East Broch stands on the north-east tip of Burray which gets its name the two Northfield brochs. The well-built but dilapidated site has internal gallery walls surviving well above the original ground floor level which is under a mass of debris. The external wall survives to 2m in the north. The entrance passage faces east although a major break in the north-east walls confuses the situation. Fresh water was probably from a now dried-up stream to the west. The site has excellent views over Holm Sound and boats could be drawn up clear of the shore line in a noust. Access is from Northfield Farm where permission can be sought for both brochs. Livestock and or standing crops are likely to be present en-route to both sites so expect muddy conditions.


Major Structural Notes:-

The outside diameter is 19.5m with a wall thickness of 4m with an inside diameter of over 11m. Much of the plan information is taken from Petrie's report plan as many of the structures are no longer visible. The entrance passage has ‘guard cells’ entered through both passage walls. Another intra-mural cell is accessed from an opening 90 degrees to the north of the entrance. Opposite this cell, in the south quadrant is the entrance, well above floor level, of another cell and gallery. This gallery was seen to have stairs rising further clockwise but these are no longer visible. Further to the west a passage gives access to a further cell. Its original shape is given as rectangular in the plan but is now seen as circular – about 1m diameter. Possibly a Victorian rework. A scarcement was seen but this is no longer apparent.


Associated Structures:-

Outside the entrance the excavator, by chance, discovered a passage to a ‘well’ feature towards the shoreline. The site is surrounded by a bank and there appear to be no other external structures. In the interior several orthostats suggest divisions which are often from later Pictish times.


Site Setting:-

The broch sits guarding the Holm Sound access into Scapa Flow overlooking the Churchill Barriers. Its neighbour some 400m to the west has been almost totally removed to build the WW2 gun emplacements and control tower. The broch stands on a low cliff at the north edge of an active mixed farming landscape. Two more probable brochs sit on the south of the island overlooking Water Sound to South Ronaldsay.


Special Mentions:-

The external well, already mentioned, is dug into solid rock and is reminiscent of many other sites and of Mine Howe on the mainland. They seem to be for ritual use as opposed for fresh water. Some are dug into sand and would not hold water.

Sea-faring has always been part of the Orkney culture even from long before the Scandinavian invasions. A ‘king’ of Orkney was said to have been present at the arrival of Rome in Kent in AD43. Rome has left or traded artefacts across the broch areas and especially those of Orkney.


Sources: Site visits and RCAHMS Canmore database and Archaeologica Scotica vol 5 plate VII (George Petrie 1866)