Ancient Monuments

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Brough of Bigging, promontory fort, Yesnaby

A Scheduled Monument in West Mainland, Orkney Islands

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Latitude: 59.0213 / 59°1'16"N

Longitude: -3.3616 / 3°21'41"W

OS Eastings: 321919

OS Northings: 1015713

OS Grid: HY219157

Mapcode National: GBR L42W.LTD

Mapcode Global: WH69M.BJG1

Entry Name: Brough of Bigging, promontory fort, Yesnaby

Scheduled Date: 21 August 1995

Last Amended: 26 March 2014

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM6214

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: fort (includes hill and promontory fort)

Location: Sandwick

County: Orkney Islands

Electoral Ward: West Mainland

Traditional County: Orkney


The monument is a fort occupying a promontory on the W coast of Orkney mainland, in use probably between around 1100 BC and AD 800. The promontory measures about 170m from NE to SW by 60m transversely and is surrounded by cliffs except at its SE corner where it can be accessed by a narrow isthmus, 25m wide. Three grass-covered banks run across the isthmus, enclosing an area of approximately 1.3 hectares. Slight traces of other structures survive both on the isthmus and the promontory.

At least two of the banks are the remains of defensive walls. The innermost is much reduced, measuring 4m wide and standing 0.5m high. Some 40m to the SW is an outer wall, on the N edge of a deep natural gulley, visible as a grassy scarp about 5m wide and standing 0.4m high. Its outer face appears to have been of coursed drystone construction and a gap at the E end may be an original entrance. A third bank, which may be later in date, lies on the SE side of the same gulley and measures up to 3m wide and stands 0.5m high. The footings of two rectangular buildings are visible close to the banks. Immediately S of the innermost bank are the remains of a possible gatehouse or forework, measuring 5.5m from NE to SW by at least 2.5m transversely, within a wall 1.5m thick formed from large edge-set stones. The grass-grown wall footings of a rectangular building, measuring 13m NE-SW by 8.4m transversely, partly overlie the NE end of the outermost bank. There are a number of features atop the promontory itself. A summit cairn and walled enclosure are relatively recent additions. At the cliff edge some 20m to the SW are the remains of a possible burial cairn, about 3.7m in diameter; at least two edge-set stones appear to mark its edge and cairn material is visible to a depth of 0.65m in the eroding section. Other surface features include a circular depression, 5m in diameter, and a circular platform, 8m in diameter, which may represent the sites of roundhouses.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all post-and-wire fences to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance as a rare example of a promontory fort in an area where brochs and other, more compact, stone fortifications are much more common. A highly visible coastal landmark today, the Brough of Bigging preserves a range of archaeological features in their original and dramatic landscape context, testifying to use of the site probably over many centuries. This monument has good potential to enhance our understanding of the organisation and social and economic activities of the later prehistoric people who built and used it. Although damaged by stone-robbing and some erosion at the cliff-edge, substantial remains of the fort's defensive works survive across the narrow neck of the promontory, together with associated structures, including, possibly, evidence for a guardhouse, and for two roundhouses on the promontory. The enclosed area retains high potential for the presence of buried archaeological deposits relating to the prehistoric and later use of the fort. There is also significant potential to compare this site with the nearby and probably roughly contemporary broch at Borwick, Yesnaby, and with other promontory forts locally and nationally to enhance our understanding of the development and functions of different types of broadly contemporary, defensive sites within the landscape. The loss of this monument would significantly diminish our ability to understand the nature of prehistoric and later society, economy and social hierarchy, both in Orkney and further afield.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as HY21NW 7


Lamb, R G 1980, Iron Age promontory forts in the Northern Isles, BAR British series 79, Oxford, 20, 22, 68, 77.

MacKie, E W 2002, The roundhouses, brochs and wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c. 700 BC ' AD 500: architecture and material culture. Part 1 - The Orkney and Shetland Isles, BAR British series 342, Oxford, 222.

Moore, J 2010, 'Brough of Bigging, Orkney (Sandwick parish), geophysical survey', Discovery Excav Scot, 11, 126.

RCAHMS 1946, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v, Edinburgh, 269, no 730.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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