A mile or so south of Glenelg a minor single track road leaves the coast and heads inland along Gleann Beag, the valley carved, spectacularly in places, through the landscape by the Abhainn a’Ghlinne Bhig. A little over a mile and a half along this road is a layby used by those visiting Dun Telve.
Dun Telve is a broch, one of around five hundred to be found across mainly the north and west of Scotland. Brochs were built in the last centuries BC and the first centuries AD and were circular in plan, rising to a height of 13 metres or more: this is the height of the best preserved example, Mousa Broch in the Shetland Islands. Opinions differ as to their purpose. Some experts view them as primarily defensive structures, while others believe they were symbols of prestige and power, intended to demonstrate the wealth of the local chieftain and his ability to harness the manpower and resources necessary to build such a highly visible structure. The truth is that these structures were probably multi-purpose, designed for day to day habitation as well, when necessary, as defence.
Dun Telve, and nearby Don Troddan, a third of a mile further east along the same glen, are the best preserved brochs on the Scottish mainland. Why there should be two so close together here is unclear, but given the huge amount of effort needed to build such a structure, it seems very likely they were built by groups, perhaps different parts of a large family, working in cooperation with one another. If the brochs had been built by enemies, then whoever built the first to be finished could readily have prevented construction work on the second. (Continues below image...)
Dun Telve lies in the foot of Gleann Beag, and is accessed from a short path from the road. The broch is 18.3m in diameter, and stands to a maximum height of 10.2m on its western and northwestern sides. The external drystone walls are 4.3m thick at the base and 1.2 metres thick at the top. They comprise outer and inner walls, tied together with flat stones. This made for a much lighter and better ventilated structure.
The entrance is on the western side and is believed to have been modified in the 1800s. Beside the entrance passage is a small chamber, often thought of as guarding the entrance. On the north side of the interior a doorway gives access to stairs that climb within the thickness of the wall. These can be climbed to first floor level: originally they would have continued to the top of the structure. There is evidence in the form of horizontal stone ledges that suggest that there were originally two upper floors, with the top floor being set at a height of around 9m above ground level.
It is said that Dun Telve stood to its full height until robbed for its stone in the early 1700s. The suggestion is that the stone was taken in 1722 to be used in the building of Bernera Barracks in Glenelg. The same is said of Don Troddan, further up the glen. The problem with this theory is that it doesn't explain why any part of Dun Telve survives: for it would certainly have been easier to remove what still stands than travel further and climb the side of the glen to partially demolish a second broch.
Whatever the true fate of its missing stonework, Dun Telve was becoming popular with visitors to the area by the end of the 1700s, and in 1855 the Glenelg Brochs were two of the first ancient monuments in Scotland to be taken into State care. Today they are cared for by Historic Environment Scotland, and both can be considered "must see" locations by anyone visiting the Glenelg area.