Yesterday saw the unveiling of Caithness Broch Project’s LEGO broch at the Caithness Horizons Museum in Thurso. The model is a Brick to the Past creation, built by Dan Harris and James Pegrum, the former working on the broch itself and the latter the landscape it sits on.
One of the amazing things about this model is the distances it has travelled to get here. While Dan lives in Nethy Bridge near Aviemore, which to be fair is reasonably local in Highland terms, James lives in Devon. This means that a big part of a model that now resides in the most northerly town on the British mainland was created just a stone’s throw away from the English Channel.
The model is 1.4 metres square and reaches a height of about 40 cm. The broch itself is made of approximately 10,000 pieces and the whole model packs in a lots and lots of advanced building techniques. One of the greatest challenges was getting the gently tapered shape of the walls right and Dan admits that the Broch is the most challenging thing he has ever built.
The LEGO broch is just one of many outreach activities Caithness Broch Project have going on in 2017, which is Scotland’s 'Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology'. It will be at the Caithness Horizons Museum all summer but Caithness Broch Project also intend that it visit local schools and clubs to help promote brochs as one of the area’s richest historic and cultural heritage of assets.
Chairman of Caithness Broch Project, Kenneth McElroy said:
"The LEGO broch's main purpose is to encourage people to learn and engage with the archaeology of Caithness. We hope that we can make learning about the heritage of our county exciting and enjoyable.
We also hope that it will let people know about Caithness Broch Project, and what we are aiming towards. We hope to build a much bigger replica broch one day!"
We’re proud of working with this grassroots organisation and hope that our little model will in some small way contribute towards their goal of building a fully sized reconstruction of a broch in Caithness.
The exhibition opens at the Caithness Horizons Museum today and the LEGO broch will be on display at until October 16th.
You can find more about Caithness Broch Project and offer your support by visiting their website:
Thursday saw us traveling to Thurso, the most northerly town on mainland Britain and the home of the superb Caithness Horizons Museum. Our mission was to deliver and set up the now well publicised LEGO broch for Caithness Broch Project, a task which we of course delighted in, because a). it meant that we got yo visit a museum, and b). it meant that we got to play with LEGO. The LEGO broch will now form part of a summer exhibition on, you guessed it, brochs, before being taken on a tour of local schools as part of Caithness Broch Project's exciting outreach program.
We won't give you a full look at the model just yet, there will be a proper press release issued by Caithness Broch Project that will do that. In the meantime, please enjoy our little teaser... and to see more, visit the museum!
Last weekend was the Great Western Brick Show, held every year at Swindon’s Museum of the Great Western Railway, also known as STEAM. This is one of our favourite shows, being in a great venue, attracting awesome exhibitors and drawing a large and enthusiastic crowd.
This year we were once again in the Caerphilly Hall, sitting under the imposing shadow of the Caerphilly Castle, once upon a time the world’s fastest train. Lego Hastings made a return and was the first model people saw on entering the venue. Our centrepiece however was a much expanded England 793, with new additions from Simon Pickard, Tim Goddard, James Pegrum, Jimmy Clinch and Dan Harris. The model now covers an enormous 16 square metres and was built on 105 48x48 stud Lego baseplates. Every year we get asked how many pieces go into our models and every year we have no idea, but we are talking somewhere in the high 100,000s for this one.
Key features of England 793 include an island monastery inspired by Lindisfarne, a ship burial representing Sutton Hoo and an Anglo-Saxon village based on West Stow. A further neat touch was a vast cavern filled with dinosaur bones, which sat under a soaring hill of over 30 bricks in height. Running amok among this sweeping landscape was an army of Viking raiders who are bent on plundering the treasures of the poor Anglo-Saxons.
A shot of England 793.
This year’s show also coincided with Swindon 175, which celebrates 175 years since the birth of the Swindon Railway Works. We couldn’t let this go without note, so we bought along a mosaic of the founding father himself, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Brunell, in Lego form.
We also had a number of smaller models on display, including a Nine Man’s Morris board, a couple of versions of hnefatafl and, in contrast to England 793, our first ever micro-scale build. The micro-scale build is particularly special as it represents the first stage of our work for Caithness Broch Project – a miniature Lego Broch. Brochs it appears are not well known in southern England so we had a great time spreading the word.
Micro-brochs and ye olde board games.
Spreading the word about brochs.
We were once again delighted by the reaction to our models and cannot wait to return next year.
Official photos of our models will be uploaded to the website as soon as we finish editing them. Watch this space for updates!
Dan Harris has been island hopping in Scotland’s Western Isles, here’s what he found out.
What do you do for a holiday if your country has just heedlessly voted to devalue its own currency? Well one thing is to take a bit of gamble on the weather and look a bit closer to home and, to be fair, when you live in a country that disregards the forecasts of economists about a post-Brexit economy, then disregarding the forecasts of the Met Office is the next logical step, even if years accumulated climatic data and complex mathematical models suggest the odds are stacked against you. And so with unrealistic expectations of a brighter tomorrow, we hopped on the ferry at Ullapool and set sale for the Isle of Lewis.
For those unfamiliar with Scotland’s geography, the Isle of Lewis is the largest island in the Western Isles of the Outer Hebrides. More accurately, it is just over half of the largest island in the Western Isles of the Outer Hebrides, because confusingly, the southern half is called the Isle of Harris, despite being part of exactly the same landmass.
There are brochs on Lewis, awesome ones.
Situated on Europe’s Atlantic edge, Lewis and Harris are both astonishingly beautiful islands, with everything from vast, white sandy beaches to precipitous, rugged hills and mountains. You might be able to tell, it didn’t really take that much to convince me to visit them, even if the weather was more promising in the Mediterranean. But I’ll pause there, because this isn’t supposed to be some kind of ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ type essay, of the sort you had to write on your first day back at school. No, this is essay is supposed to have some relevance to the Blog and oh what relevance there is!
Not only beautiful, the Outer Hebrides are also home to some of Scotland’s finest archaeological sites and so this trip wasn’t just a holiday, it was also a field trip. There were three sites in particular that we wanted to visit and by happy coincidence, they are all within a few miles of each other, on the western coast of Lewis. Of greatest relevance to our current work was the Dun Carloway Broch. This remarkably complete structure, perhaps second only to Mousa on Shetland, is thought to date from the late first millennium BC and the late Iron Age. It’s south side stands almost intact to what is thought to be its original height of 9 metres. Remarkably, people alive in the 1830s remembered seeing the broch in a near-complete state, roofed over with a large flat stone. The broch has a well preserved entrance, guard cell, intra-mural staircase and cavities, scarcement ledges and ground level chambers. The ground floor of the broch is uneven and contains a large slab of bedrock, suggesting that a second timber floor would have been the main living space. The broch proved an excellent source of first-hand information to help inform the construction of our own Lego Broch for Caithness Broch Project…despite not actually being in Caithness.
Dun Carloway is beautiful.
Just south along the coast is another of Scotland’s best archaeological sites, the Callanish Complex of Standing Stones. These are somewhat older than the Broch, dating back to around 3,000 BC and the Neolithic period. The complex comprises of at least 19 visible monuments as well as many now hidden remains. The best known and best preserved is known as Callanish 1 or Cnoc An Tursa, located just to the west of the village of Calanais. While we don’t have any immediate plans to build any more stone circles, it’s always worth having a few examples stored up, just in case we do decide to. Building an accurate model of Callanish 1 would certainly prove an interesting challenge.
Neolithic stones and highland cows.
The final site visit took us to the island of Beàrnaraigh Mòr, perhaps better known as Great Bernera, which is connected to Lewis via a short bridge. On its northern coast lies the sandy bay of Traigh Bostadh where in 1993, following a severe storm, the remains of a Viking house and older Iron Age village were uncovered. Evidence suggests that the bay was occupied at least as far back as 1,500 years ago by people thought to be Pictish in origin. The Iron Age village proved the most interesting find, comprising of a complex of semi-subterranean, drystone dwellings of a ‘jelly-baby’ shape. The local history society has built a life-size reconstruction of one of these Iron Age dwellings, which can be visited for a small donation. While obviously less ambitious than Caithness Broch Project’s aim to build a life-size reconstruction of a broch, the house is an excellent example of what can be done and of the benefits of recreating historical buildings using traditional methods.
Traigh Bostadh and the reconstructed Iron Age house.
This is how we think the Picts lived; it's all mood lighting & sheepskin rugs.
Since I don’t think you want to hear about my days spent on the beach or wandering the hill country of Harris, this marks the end of my report. As forecasted, the trip ended with driving rain and winds so strong they uprooted our tent, leaving us soaked, cold and in need of alternative accommodation – next year we’ll probably just holiday in Greece.
Dan Harris is a builder for Brick to the Past. He lives in the Scottish Highlands and enjoys hill walking, rock climbing and old piles of stones. All opinions are his own.
Field trip season well and truly kicked off this weekend as we ventured north to what is arguably the farthest corner of mainland Britain. On Sunday we were lucky enough to be given a tour of some of the finest Broch sites in Caithness and Sutherland by none other than local Broch experts Ken and Iain from Caithness Broch Project.
Field trips are a valuable part of what we do and despite some mildly grim weather and the occasional cloud of midges, this one was no exception. Brochs on our visit included Nybster, Dunbeath , Kintradwell / Cin Trolla and Carn Liath and they provided us with a wealth of features, some of which are delightfully grizzly, to include in our forthcoming model.
As if having two Broch experts accompany us wasn't enough, we were also lucky enough to bump into AOC Archaeology's John Barber, who has years of experience working in Scotland's historic environment. John is currently undertaking research into the engineering, architecture and conservation of brochs with the University of Edinburgh, so the opportunity to quiz him did not go unmissed.
This may well have been our most productive field trip ever and so now, with our heads full of new found information, it's time to get building... or maybe go on another field trip, because you can't have too much of a good thing.
We are delighted to announce that Brick to the Past have been commissioned by the Caithness Broch Project to build a minifigure scale Lego Broch for permanent display at the Caithness Horizons Museum. The model will also be taken around schools in Caithness and used for discussing Brochs in more detail with local children, as well as other aspects of Iron Age life.
This project is just one of many outreach activities Caithness Broch Project have planned to coincide with the Scottish Government's 'Year of History Heritage and Archaeology' in 2017.
For those unfamiliar with Scottish Iron Age archaeology, a broch is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure of a type found only in Scotland and mostly in northern Scotland. Caithness, Sutherland and the Northern Isles have the densest concentrations, but there are also a great many examples in the west of Scotland and the Hebrides.
Caithness Broch Project is a registered charity (SC046307). The aims of the Project can be divided into several achievable targets:
Check out their website and support them on social media:
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