Broch and settlement
Mainland, Orkney
Nearest town: Kirkwall
Nearest village: Georth
Map reference: HY 381268

Gurness Image Discovered by chance in 1929 by a local poet, it is an impressive arrangement of buildings and outer defences surrounding a broch

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The broch at Gurness was discovered by the Orkney poet Robert Rendall. One day in the summer of 1929, he was sitting on the Knowe of Gurness sketching the view of Rousay Sound, when one of the legs of his stool slipped into the ground. On removing some of the stones he uncovered a descending set of stairs. Excavations were carried out that year, and the broch along with an impressive arrangement of outbuildings was recovered.
    The broch is solid-based, and its dimensions suggest that it once reached a considerable height, although at some point its upper sections had been dismantled, probably to provide the quantities of building stone necessary for the surrounding buildings. The Gurness broch has survived to a maximum height of only about 3.5 m (11,5 feet), but its present state proves the success of its location, for the site was inhabited on and off for some 900 years.
    As well as the usual features, the broch had a flight of steps leading down from the courtyard to a spring-fed underground water tank. The northern part of the site has suffered from coastal erosion, but it seems likely that originally the outer defences encircled the broch entirely. The main element is a rock-cut ditch, about 4 m wide and up to 2 m deep.
    The broch and its outer defences were probably built in the 1st century AD and the village developed subsequently. Gurness is most famous, however, for the village of terraced houses surrounding the broch. They are somewhat irregular in shape and mostly so large that is unlikely that they were wholly roofed. Here you can appreciate the endless variations that can be achieved with large thin slabs of Orkney flagstone.

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