Dun Carloway, or Dun Charlabhaigh, is a remarkably well preserved broch in a stunning location overlooking Loch Roag on the west coast of Lewis.
Dun Carloway was probably built some time in the last century BC. It would have served as an occasionally defensible residence for an extended family complete with accommodation for animals at ground floor level. It would also have served as a visible statement of power and status in the local area. Think of it as the iron age equivalent of an architect-designed mansion with a garage for the Range Rover, a stable for the horses, and remotely operated front gates.
The broch at Dun Carloway is extremely well preserved. It was built at a time when brochs were already starting to be replaced by other forms of housing less demanding on scarce resources (and wood in particular), and it is not known how long it remained in use. It seems to have been still largely complete in the 1500s when some of the Morrison clan sought refuge inside the broch after being discovered stealing the local MacAulays' cattle. Donald Cam MacAulay climbed the outside of the wall and threw in burning heather, smoking the Morrisons out.
The broch is next mentioned in a report by the local Minister in 1797. By this time, brochs were believed to be watchtowers used as defense against, or by, Vikings. Dun Carloway featured prominently in reports on Western Isles brochs in the latter part of the 1800s, and as a result it was one of the very first ancient monuments in Scotland to be taken into state care. By this time a large a part of the wall had been removed, probably for recycling into the blackhouses built nearby: including the one whose walls still stand nearly complete below the access path.
Today Dun Carloway is approached from the car park past the superb Doune Broch Centre, built largely underground, and containing an exhibition giving a sense of what life in the broch might well have been like. This is run by Urras nan Tursachan, The Standing Stones Trust (as is the nearby Calanais Visitor Centre), and the broch itself is in the care of Historic Scotland. The excellent design and location of the Visitor Centre has been diminished by the recent building of a large house on the hillside below it, in a position that dominates the view of the monument from the car park. This is a deeply sad development that diminishes the impact of Dun Carloway and the enjoyment of a visit to it.
A path leads up the hillside, giving views of the broch and the surrounding countryside. The side facing you is built above steep rock, and most of it remains as originally designed. As you round the broch to the entrance, on the north side, you are presented with a different picture. From here you can see that the most easily accessible parts of the wall have been removed. What you are left with is a life-size cutaway model, exposing sections through the walls and showing clearly much of their structure.
Inside the broch a number of chambers are accessible at ground floor level, an area which would probably have been used to house farm animals. The human residents would have lived 2m higher, above wooden flooring supported on a ridge that can still be seen running around the inside walls. As in other brochs, stairs are fitted within the thickness of the walls, and there would probably have been several floors of accommodation beneath a conical roof.