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Off the Beaten Track 14 - Dalsetter and Troswick

Published: 03 July 2020

Shetland’s south mainland is more heavily cultivated than most of Shetland and so the remarkable early prehistoric landscape at Dalsetter, on enclosed land, is something of a delightful surprise.  Today’s walk ends here, but starts with the turf-covered but nevertheless, impressive, broch of Dalsetter, and heads north to Troswick.

“Norse mills”

At Troswick there is a particularly fine series of horizontal mills, also known as “Norse mills”.  Excavations at Orphir in Orkney proved that mills did come into the islands in Norse (later Viking) times.  Whilst it is not impossible that we will find Norse mills in Shetland, most of those lining the burns are likely to have eighteenth century origins.  The mills were water-powered, the upper stone being connected to a wooden horizontal paddle which was water-turned.  They were well suited to Shetland’s burns, which were usually dammed to make the flow faster once the water was released.  Where there are several on a single burn, the crofters would agree when the dam would be breached and would work simultaneously to get the benefit.  There are several stories of trows and fiddlers associated with them.

There is plenty of parking at the far end of Dalsetter Wynd.  From there you will see the broch on a rise to the north.  There is a stile across the first fence.  The next obstacle is a dyke standing to full height.  Follow the dyke away from the broch, almost to the cliff edge, to find a stone stile set into the wall.

Broch of Dalsetter (HU 408 157)

The broch stands about 100 metres from the sea.  The lumpy mound rises above the outer rampart, which itself survives as a bank which is over two metres high.  There is a flat-bottomed ditch between the outer rampart and an inner bank which, on this (south) side of the broch, is very close to the broch itself.  On the far side, the wider spacing allowed for other buildings - some possibly contemporary, others a lot later and including croft buildings - to be built between the broch and its defences.  There is also a much more recent dyke, which crosses the mound and ends at a building with a corn dryer built into it.

The broch itself stands around five metres high.  The only visible part of the structure is a well-constructed cell built of perfectly rectangular slabs of the local stone.  There are still traces of the corbelled (beehive-shaped) cell above it.

Leaving the broch, head northwest to find a field gate, then turn towards the coast to find the second gate and once through this, turn right and walk alongside the wall to find the third.  Follow the coast north.  There is a prehistoric house site at HU 409 163 although if you are not used to looking at archaeological remains you would be forgiven for missing it.  The overall shape is easiest to see from the south side and there is a hint of an inside wall.  The stone work on the north side has been reused for a sheep shelter, which confuses the eye.


The next fence is the only one you need to cross where there is neither a gate nor a stile. As you continue north, look towards the settlement in the distance to spot the Troswick Stone (HU 408 166)  a sandstone slab 2.3 metres tall which is close to the remains of a dyke.

From the stone, head towards the most southerly croft building (HU 407 168) where a corn drying kiln is still in use today.  It looks rather like a giant beehive, standing nearly three metres high.  Passing through the set of gates beside the corn dryer will take you onto the road.  Head up to a T-junction and turn right to find a series of nine horizontal mills (HU 406 172) along the burn which runs from the Loch of Clumlie to the sea.  They are in good, but variable, states of repair.  One, half-way down the burn, has been fully restored and is in working order.

Looking north across the loch, the Broch of Clumlie (HU 404 181) has a cluster of croft buildings around it.  The broch was excavated in 1887 and stands just over two metres high.  Part of the outer wall has been removed, but there is a small room or “guard cell” to the right of the narrow entrance and a cell on the left may have led to a staircase.  The hearth survives, but possibly belongs with the later wall which was inserted just inside the broch wall. The internal stone subdivisions would also have been part of this later Iron Age modification.  This was a common fate for brochs.  Once the need for a defensive tower passed, brochs were altered internally and turned into roundhouses which continued to be used.  This happened to Clickhimin, Jarlshof and Mousa.  In many brochs the upper galleries were dismantled at this point, in order to reuse the stone for these changes.

Dalsetter’s Rich Prehistoric Past

Head back south along the road until you reach Dalsetter farm.  Enter the field by the gate to find a substantial, roughly oval, burnt mound (HU 401 160), 12 metres long and 1.5 metres high, with a second small mound beside it.  The mound has small heat-shattered stones visible in places.

Following the burn south, there are remains of an oval-shaped prehistoric house with thick double-faced walls and upright stones in the outer face (HU 399 158).  The house is surrounded by an enclosure, surviving as a line of intermittent stones, and you can also see the remains of other stone boundaries which might be part of the same field system (which extends across the road).  There is a second prehistoric house to the south west (HU 399 158), situated in an almost circular enclosure like the Homestead Enclosures which are common in Nesting (Shetland Times 10 April 2020).

A little further along the burn, there are two enormous burnt mounds (HU 401 158).  The northern one is kidney-shaped, 20 metres long and 2 metres high).  The southern mound (HU 400 158) is an irregular oval, 18 metres long and1 metre high.

My favourite part of the walk is the prehistoric settlement on the east side of the road (HU 493 157).  There are two gates into the field from the road.  It includes two enclosures outlined in stone, four small houses and, inside the main enclosure, traces of slighter walls and grassed over clearance cairns – the remains of early agriculture.

The house nearest to the road is the best preserved, surviving as an oval bank with some walling visible on the north side.  The house is 14 metres long, with an entrance at the east end and a recess at the back.  There is a later, low, rectangular bank against the outside of the remains on the south side.

The most northerly house is horseshoe-shaped with large and medium stones protruding, although the south end is not visible.

The other two houses are inside an inner enclosure built of blocky stone.  The most northerly of these is right up against the enclosure wall.  The house is oval, with the stones surviving clearly on the enclosure side and a bank on the opposite side.

The most southerly house survives as an oval platform 14 metres long, with two upright stones visible at the north end.

Dr. Val Turner, Regional Archaeologist, Shetland Amenity Trust, July 2020

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