Context 158 - March 2019

24 C O N T E X T 1 5 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 9 (to build a replica broch), steady progress has been made. In 2018 a broch symposium was held, featuring archaeologists from across the UK contributing to the initial designs made by the team. Several sites have been offered on which the broch could be constructed. Tenders have been submitted for the design brief. Accessibility and engagement is central to the projects and programmes, making archaeol- ogy interesting and approachable for everyone, from schoolchildren to teenagers and adults, from everywhere in Caithness. The promotional aspect of CBP has been particularly successful, especially on social media, where it has devel- oped a dedicated following, thanks to humorous posts and broch memes. The promotions of the broch project are quite often irreverent, but always informative. The social media blitz has in many ways aided the broch project, and may account for the level of support afforded from the local community. CBP operates a membership scheme with over 400 members, most of whom live in Caithness or have some connection to the area. The social media pages of CBP are abuzz with messages of support for their aims and ambitions. Does this constitute a difference in the way heritage is viewed in Caithness? It may boil down to the local communities’ own perception of how the county is treated and viewed by the outside world. Caithness is not only on the periphery of Scotland, but of the Highlands too. Since 1996, Caithness has been part of the Highland Council area. This may have led to some of homogenisation, and a lack of care and attention afforded to Caithness. That is a common complaint among locals. It is not only a governmental issue. There are several glaring examples of Caithness being left out of tourist promotion: a cursory glance of Visit Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland or the National Trust for Scotland reveals that Caithness is given far less attention than other regions – often none at all. Even John Thurso, the chairman of Visit Scotland, remarks that ‘a particular bête noire of the Scottish tourist industry is to draw a line at Inverness’. The broch project may offer a way of highlighting the importance of Caithness, at least in an archaeo- logical and historic sense. What better way to state your distinctiveness than to construct a 2,000-year-old, 40-foot high, prehistoric tower? It would be prudent to observe, however, that the construction of a replica broch will also serve a serious and more practical role. Caithness suf- fers from isolation and economic dislocation and a number of serious social issues. Compounding this is the closure of Dounreay, the local nuclear power plant, within the next 20 years. Dounreay employs around one in five people in the county, so the downturn from this could spell catastro- phe for Caithness. The building of the broch, and the associated promotional activities of the Caithness Broch Project, seek to offset the effects of Dounreay’s closure: promoting pride in place, while aiming towards a more economi- cally sustainable Caithness. It would appear seemly that Dounreay, cutting-edge technology in its time, could be replaced by the zenith of engineering achieved 2,000 years ago. In both cases Caithness was at the forefront. Caithness is going through a transitional period, but the construction of a 21st-century broch could provide an inspiring and iconic bulwark against further degradation. It is an extraordinary physical embodiment of identity and a powerful statement to the world: welcome to Caithness, the Home of the Broch. Kenneth McElroy, a director of Caithness Broch Project, is studying archaeology at Glasgow University. Carloway broch, on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, is one of the best preserved (Photo: Nessy-Pic Wikimedia)

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