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Off the Beaten Track 18 - Eshaness

Published: 31 July 2020

Brochs, Unusual Burials and Arresting Views

Eshaness has spectacular scenery.  Its volcanic geology makes it very distinctive.  Eshaness also boasts a selection of interesting archaeological sites.  This circular walk will take most of your day, but is relatively easy going.  (Alternatively, it is possible to do it as three sections and to drive between the key locations.)



There is convenient parking close to Eshaness Lighthouse (HU 206 785).  The lighthouse was built in 1929 by David and Charles Stevenson, 100 years after their ancestor, Robert Stevenson, built Sumburgh Head in 1821.  Eshaness has a short, square tower with lower accommodation on the landward side.


Set off west from the car-park, around the dramatic Calder Geo, before heading north to the Loch of Houlland (HU 214 792).  Cross the dyke just beyond two small lochs using a ladder-stile close to the coast.


In contrast with the majority of brochs which are close to the coastal edge, the Broch of Houlland sits 400 – 500 metres inland, on an islet at the edge of a loch.  It is attached to the shore by a causeway – with some similarities to Clickhimin.  There is a wide stone rampart across the access from the shore.  Houlland has not been excavated and is full of tumbled stone from the walls.  It stands about 3.5 metres high and the entrance, on the south-west side, had a guard cell in the wall on the right.  You might spot two other ruined cells within the walls. 


The islet continued to be used after the broch ceased functioning as a broch, since there are several oval and sub-rectangular foundations nestling around it on the promontory.  The builders of these later structures probably reused stone from the upper section of the original wall and were perhaps Picts.  It may have been in that later period that two additional dykes were built across the neck of the causeway.


While you are in the area, it is only a short step further to the hair-raising holes of Scrada.  The roof of a deep cavern has collapsed and the noise of the sea crashing in resonates eerily around it.  There are several horizontal mills (HU 213 793) on the burn which flows into it.


Continue round the loch, past the house of Priesthoulland (HU 216 794), picking up the track which leads to the gate.  Unfortunately the gate was padlocked last week, which meant that I had to climb over the fence.  From the gate you can see stones surrounded by a patch of green, a short distance up the hill.  Burial cists, most usually Iron Age, are stone lined boxes in which people’s bodies were laid - usually on their side, with their knees drawn up to their chests.  This cist (approximately HU 219 790) is made of the local chunky stone and is more blocky than cists normally are.  There is a stone in the middle which has probably tumbled in from the side, rather than being intended as a pillow.