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How the far north’s neolithic history could be the region’s economic future

A visualisation of the Jarlshof broch in Shetland
A visualisation of the Jarlshof broch in Shetland

A neolithic history tourist boom could be the economic future of Caithness.

Tourism bosses are hoping an Orkney-style increase in visitor numbers could alleviate the eventual loss of industry, such as the decommissioning of Dounreay.

A new charity – the Caithness Broch Project – is designed to capitalise on the far north’s many historic sites.

On the other side of the Pentland Firth, Orkney has enjoyed a boom in tourism in recent years, partly due to its historic sites such as Skara Brae, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar.

But Kennethy McElroy, from the Caithness Broch Project, said there are more archaeological sites in Caithness, which aren’t being as widely promoted.

The charity ultimately aims to recreate one of the iron age buildings as a tourist attraction.

He said: “The issue at hand here is that the main employer of Caithness for the last half-century – Dounreay, the nuclear power station – is now going through a period of decommissioning and downturn, and this is already having a major impact on the local community.

“Unfortunately there has been something of an over-dependence on Dounreay, and, as a result, Caithness must now consider new avenues of growth – and we believe heritage tourism is one such area that offers a lot of hope for the county.

“We believe that the broch can become a fascinating and inspiring icon for Caithness, highlighting the area’s abundant archaeological remains.”

Brochs are large drystone towers which were built during the iron age around two centuries ago. They are unique to Scotland and there are around 180 of them in Caithness alone, more than anywhere else in the country.

The charity was recently awarded £12,000 by Big Lottery Scotland and Highland Council towards a business plan and feasibility study to understand if it can make the broch a viable and sustainable project

They have been offered four possible sites to build the broch, all of them close to the North Coast 500 route.

The project has also been awarded funding to stage the Caithness Broch Festival, celebrating the archaeology of the area.

Mr McElroy added: “We’re looking at carrying out archaeological activity at two broch sites Thing’s Va, near Thurso, and Bruan Broch near Lybster.

“There are some fascinating sites here, especially Thing’s Va, which was later used as a Viking parliament.”

They are also currently working with the Brick to the Past project to establish a scale-sized Lego broch building which would go on show.

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