The Broch of Gurness certainly isn’t Orkney’s most popular sight but I have always had a soft spot for this Iron Age settlement. Brochs are unique to Scotland and Gurness is a good example. Many stood alone and what makes Gurness special is the village that surrounds the broch. Gurness has a central hearth and a sunken water basin and around the walls are stone cupboards. Like other brochs it has a double wall with a winding stone staircase between these two walls.
The village at Gurness dates back from between 500 and 200 BC. Wandering among the houses and you can see the large living area and smaller side rooms. Climb up the staircase of the broch and you get an aerial view of the layout of these buildings, which helps to understand the complex layout.
When we first visited the Broch of Gurness in the early 1990s there was no car park and we walked around the beautiful sweep of the white sandy bay to see the site. Today you can park alongside the broch and even if no one is around, you can walk through the never-locked gate and take a respectful look around.
Before you leave the Broch of Gurness spend a moment at this memorial bench. Looking out over Eynhallow Sound to the island of Rousay is this handsome weathered memorial bench to Dr Olaf Cuthbert. The words on the bench are touching and are perfect for this special place:
I leave few footprints on the sand for stormy seas to wash away
I take with me the breadth of sky and seas of unimaginable blue
These words are from a poem by Dr Olaf Cuthbert, who worked as a GP on Orkney for 40 years, having moved to the islands from Essex with his family. This article by his daughter, Sally Miller [who writes under the pen name Sara Bailey] tells the story of how the death of her father and organising the erection of this bench bought her back to her childhood home and changed her life. Her love story about how the death of her father reunited her with her teenage boyfriend only confirms what a magical place Orkney is.
Sara Bailey is the author of Dark Water, a haunting novel about Helena who returns to Orkney and has to face memories she has tried to hide from.