Saturday, 18 October 2008 When I was at university, I had a friend named Bob Brox. He was a funny guy, with a peculiar sense
of humor. Once, I told him that I was going to take a motorcycle trip to Nova Scotia, and he asked me if I was going to go to Magnum PEI as
well. (Magnum PI, American television viewers will recall, was a detective series starring Tom Selleck.) He didn't really care if I was
going to Prince Edward Island; he just wanted to make the joke. I remember riding along Nova Scotia's north shore, looking at PEI across the
Northumberland Strait. In my mind's ear, I could hear it calling to me in Bob Brox's voice: "Bruce! Come on over!" So I did. From that
day forward, I have always thought of Prince Edward Island as Magnum PEI.
Whatever happened to that guy? Maybe if I type his name enough times here (Bob Brox, Bob Brox, Bob Brox, Bob Brox), this page will come up when someone else is googling him. Maybe I'll hear from Bud Blanchard (Bud Blanchard, Bud Blanchard), or Noonan the Barbarian. What a joker!
I find myself thinking of Bob Brox today, because I'm off to see the four brochs in and around Glenelg [Glenelg & Arnisdale Development Trust]. From this day forward, I shall always think of these four as the Bob Brochs.
Circling around Loch Shiel, I get views of Eilean Donan Castle from various angles. On the far side of the loch, the road to Glenelg turns up inland, but I stay on the shore road headed west. At the end of the road, I park the car and make the short walk up to Caisteal Grugaig. It's been a while since I've been here, and I'd forgotten what a splendid little broch this is, overgrown as it is with bracken. It has an excellent triangular lintel, very similar to the one in the broch at Culswick in Shetland. It has been theorized that the brochs of Scotland were the work of itinerant professionals, and the similarity of architectural detail lends credence to that idea. There's also a fine interior stairway between the inner and outer shell, a standard feature of all brochs. The hillside offers a good view across Loch Shiel, Eilean Donan being obscured only by the chance location of a couple of trees.
I backtrack and turn up the winding road over Mam Ratagan, a military route built to service the Bernera Barracks, one of a number of installations designed to provide quick response in the wake of the first Jacobite Rebellion. The road descends into Glen More, the big glen, and passes through the village of Glenelg before turning up Glen Beag, the small glen. Here stand Dun Telve and Dun Troddan [G&A DT], the two best-preserved brochs on the Scottish mainland. I pass these by for now, driving up the glen as far as road conditions will allow, and walking ten minutes or so from there to Balvraid Broch. Actually, the accepted name for this construction is Dun Grugaig, but the locality is called Balvraid, and a hand-painted sign refers to it by that name, probably in an attempt to distinguish it from Caisteal Grugaig. Truth to tell, it's probably not even a true broch, although the casual observer might find it hard to say from the evidence on-site. It's built of stone, it's circular; if details such as lintels and guard chambers are lacking, it can be put down to the severely degraded condition of the site. It sits on a knoll above the river, and nearly half of it is gone, collapsed long ago into the stream below. The best remaining section of wall is bent from slumping. There seems to be a gallery in it, but no sign of a stairway. The quality of the stonework is visibly inferior to that of the brochs below. The kicker for me is the simple realization that the sophisticated broch builders would never have positioned one of their works on such an unstable base. It's a hillfort of some kind...maybe a cheap knock-off broch.
Back on the floor of the glen, I examine the two true brochs. This is the third time I've been here, but ancient sites like this never get old. (You know what I mean!) These are probably the best brochs I will ever see up close; I seem destined never to make it to Mousa, in Shetland.
After, I catch the tiny ferry to Skye at Kylerhea, crossing the currents slashing through from the Sound of Sleat. Stop briefly in Broadford, cross the bridge, and arrive back in Plockton at about 6:30, just after sunset. Dinner and pints in the Plockton Inn. A quiet night, for a Saturday.