The Brough of Birsay – an Ancient Fortress

by | Feb 1, 2023 | Birsay

Are you a fan of history and archaeology? If so, you’re in for a treat! Just a 10 minute walk from the Tearoom is one of Scotland’s most fascinating historical sites – The Broch of Birsay. This ancient fortress is located on a tidal island on the west coast of Mainland Orkney. From around the 6th century, various groups laid claim to the brough from Christians to Picts and Norse. Archaeological investigations have revealed a wealth of information about the people who once called it home.

What is a Brough?

Broughs (or brochs) are forts. In old Norse the island was called Byrgisey, meaning ‘fort island’ They were built to serve a variety of purposes, including as residences, fortifications, and status symbols.

The Picts & The Norse

The remains of the Pictish settlement include a graveyard and an important beautifully carved stone tablet which is believed to have been a grave marker. There is a replica on site, and the original can be seen at Edinburgh museum. Ther may have been a Pictish church on the site, but this was likely built over when the Norse took over the site. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Birsay was the seat of power and the capital of Orkney. The church of St Peter from that period can still be seen at the site, which was a place of pilgrimage unitl the Middle Ages.

The Site

The island is one of the best opportunities to see puffins in Orkney amongst many other colonies of seabirds. The long causeway that leads to the island is a great place to go rockpooling with many rare varieties of sea creatures at the site. A lighthouse was built on the site in 1925. It is a beautiful building in it’s own right, and well worth a visit.

If you’re interested in visiting The Brough of Birsay, there are several things you should keep in mind. The site is open to visitors year-round, but please be aware of the tides. The causway is tidal and if you catch it wrong, you may have an uncomfortable night on the island.


Despite being abandoned for hundreds of years, The Brough of Birsay continues to capture the imagination of visitors and researchers alike. The views from the top of the broch are breathtaking, and it’s easy to imagine what life might have been like for the people who once called this place home.

Want to make sure you have some refreshments after visiting the Brough, why not book a table at the tearoom?…

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