Last year I was privileged to spend just over a month on the Isle of Lewis as part of my PhD fieldwork: one week during the wet and windy month of March; three weeks during the long, sunny days of June; and a few days in early November, before the worst of the winter storms started to bite.
I am researching how historic monuments are valued by people today and one of my case studies is Dun Carloway Broch. This study was conducted in collaboration with local community landowner, the Carloway Estate Trust, meaning I was able to attend community consultations, as well as talking to people individually, and spending time at the Broch (in all weathers!).
What emerged was a fascinating range of connections, memories and activities that are associated with the Broch site and which form part of its significance to various communities. They suggest that the site is a distinctive symbol of community identity – connected to the local landscape and narratives, familiar but also special.
The Broch silhouetted on the skyline above the crofts and houses of Doune Carloway [Photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]
The Broch is an Iron-Age structure that was probably constructed about the 1st century BCE and occupied initially until about 500 CE. It is set on a prominent knoll, South of the modern township of Carloway (Carlabhagh) and within the settlement of Doune Carloway. The Broch and surrounding land is owned by the Carloway Estate Trust. The monument itself is a ‘property in care of the state’ and under the guardianship of Historic Environment Scotland. It is a popular tourist destination, attracting thousands of visitors each year. It is free to visit and there is a small visitor centre (staffed by volunteers in the summer, closed in winter), which is managed by The Standing Stones Trust. For more details see the site summary.
Outer wall of the Broch showing the moss that gives it a green colour [Photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]
When I met with the Carloway Estate Trust in March, they indicated that they were planning a community consultation process on the future of the Broch site. With the Trust’s support, activities that formed part of this study were incorporated into the June consultation events, which were held in the Carloway community centre. Working in collaboration required flexibility, in adjusting the intended format and location for my research activities. However, it provided a catalyst for participation and was beneficial to both my study and in generating an additional input to the community process.
Community consultation table [Photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]
The research findings have been written up into a Site Report, which includes a Statement of Social Value and a composite map of comments made during the consultation mapping exercise. Below is a summary of the social values that emerged from the research, for full details please refer to Annex I in the Report (link below):
Standing on a rise above Doune Carloway, the Broch is part of the surrounding landscape:
- Its setting – within a working croft and with views across the surrounding area – is critical to the experience of the site and links the monument to wider narratives of place.
- Respondents’ displayed intimate familiarity with the setting and sensitivity to potential changes.
There is a sense of ownership of the Broch, largely not conceived in legal terms, but akin to belonging:
- It is a distinctive symbol of community identity (appearing on the Carloway flag and mirrored in the signage for the village).
- People are proud of the site and feel it is deserving of attention and care.
The Broch is a site of physical interaction and activity:
- Many people’s memories of the site and primary engagements have been through childhood exploration and play, and it is a place that continues to attract and intrigue children.
- The multi-sensory experience (in particular touch) contributes to the sense of place.
The site is also somewhere people go to for inspiration and reflection:
- It is a place that sparks the imagination and a focus for creative activities (e.g. photography).
- At quieter times, it is somewhere people go for solitude and peace.
The Broch was closed to visitors due to safety concerns shortly after my second research visit [Photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]
The Report concludes with some implications of the findings, which may contribute to on-going discussions around the management of the site. Key points:
- There is a complex mix of priorities and values to be considered in managing the site, some of which appear to be contradictory or require contextualisation (e.g. regarding climbing and interpretation).
- Changes to the appearance of the structure or access to the site are particularly sensitive.
- While tourism presents practical challenges, the recognition of significance, applied at various scales (village, Estate, Island), contributes to communities’ sense of identity and ‘place-making’.
My sincere thanks go to everyone who participated in the research and to the Carloway Estate Trust for their support and collaboration.
You can view the full report here: Site Report Dun Carloway Broch (Author retains copyright. Proper attribution of authorship and correct citation details should be given).
Cover image: View of the Broch entrance, showing the double wall structure that includes an internal staircase [Photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]