The road that runs east from Durness, in the far north-west of Sutherland, to Thurso is the A836. Not far east of Durness it takes an eight mile detour inland, to the south-west, round the end of the sea loch Loch Eriboll. Having done so, it heads east once more, and a couple of miles after leaving the loch, it passes through the tiny settlement of Hope. Here an unclassified road leaves the A836 and heads south, skirting the east shore of Loch Hope, and then passing under the western ramparts of the mighty Ben Hope.
In the far north-west, stretches of single track roads are fairly common even when following the main "A" roads. But this unclassified road is an altogether different creature. It eventually emerges near Atnaharra, but we suspect most people follow it from the north, at Hope, either to reach the car park for those wishing to climb Ben Hope, or to reach the subject of this page, Dun Dornaigil, sometimes known as Dun Dornadilla.
It's about ten miles from Hope to Dun Dornaigil, and the road is one of the most challenging you'll find in Scotland that still deserves to be called a "road". Narrow, with infrequent passing places and a very poor surface, this is a road on which long stretches are marked by a strip of vegetation growing in the centre, between the wheel tracks. Plus, when we visited, evidence that at least one bridge had been washed away, to be replaced by a structure that didn't inspire huge confidence.
Dun Dornaigil 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.
What you find is an impressive structure, though also an enigmatic one. The surrounding wall rises on its north-eastern side to a height of about 7 metres, while the rest of the wall is around 2-3 metres in height. Unusually for a property in the care of Historic Environment Scotland, the broch has never been excavated, and the interior appears to be filled with rubble that has fallen in from the upper parts of the structure. There is a doorway, beneath a huge triangular lintel, but the entrance passage is comprehensively blocked.
As you look around, it is easy to see why this might have seemed a good site to its builders. It sits beside the Strathmore River and controls a key route south from the coast into the interior of northern Sutherland. Presumably the route followed by today's road is one that carried a track back in the depths of history. Setting aside the evidence of modern(ish) tarmac, it's nice to think that in many ways the landscape you see from the broch today might have been very similar to the landscape seen by its builders: albeit with, we suspect, considerably less settlement than at the time the broch was built.