Da Croon o Da Ura

One of Shetland’s more remarkable archaeological sites is Da Croon o Da Ura, in Unst, just about the most northerly part of the islands. The best way to get there is to go to the top of Saxavord, and then head down the other side towards the zig-zag promontory called Da Noup. Da Croon o Da Ura sits on a high plateau there. It’s a dangerous place, but well-worth a visit.

Da Croon o Da Ura appears on the first edition of the 6-inch Ordnance Survey map as a ‘brough’. If we use the word in the way that Shetlanders have always used it, that is exactly what it is: a fort. Not even the most agriculturally-minded archaeologist would say that it is a farmhouse, teetering as it does on the edge of a cliff. It is miles from any arable land. The unpleasant anthropologist James Hunt, visiting it in 1865, called it ‘a very formidable defensive stronghold’.

James Hay, a Methodist missionary from Haroldswick, dug into Da Croon o da Ura in the mid-19th century, something he did to structures all over Unst. He didn’t do them any good. Writing in 1897 Jakob Jakobsen says that Hay found an ‘underground room’ on the site, ‘built of very big stones’, and surrounded by concentric dykes. There are only traces of those features to be seen today. Field-workers from the Royal Commission, puzzling over the place in August 1930, called it an ‘indeterminate structure’.

As we all know, Shetland is crammed with brochs. But the builders of them were clever: they only built a ‘full-scale’ broch in places where the topography allowed it. They conserved their energy.

Most archaeologists regard brochs in Shetland as farmhouses owned by rich landlords. Writing in 2001, Steve Dockrill called these alleged potentates ‘broch-lairds’. I have argued for a long time that brochs were fortresses, built by a society that was ‘defence-nuts’. There are far too many of them to be farmhouses, especially since many of them are nowhere near farming land.On the other hand, they felt the need to build little fortresses, lookout posts, even in inaccessible places. There are a several examples in Shetland, especially in the North isles: Flubersgardie, also in Unst; Burgi Geos in north-west Yell; Da Stoal, in the south-east of that island. These structures are variable in shape, more so than the full-scale brochs. A remarkable example is the elaborate fort (as the Historical Monuments [Scotland] Commission correctly called it) at Ness of Burgi in Dunrossness.

They are structures built by a society which wanted to protect every inch of the Shetland coastline, and scrutinise every vestige of sea. Broch-builders were planners. They established fortresses, big and small, in the most unlikely places. Thanks to their efforts, Iron Age Shetland was impregnable. What enemy could have endangered the shore of northeast Unst? But the broch-builders planted a fort at Da Croon o Da Ura!

We hope you have enjoyed this blog. We rely on the generous support of our funders and supporters to continue our work on behalf of Shetland. Everything we do is about caring for Shetland's outstanding natural and cultural heritage on behalf of the community and for future generations. Donations are welcomed and are essential to our work.

Related Posts

Marion Ninianson’s Roup

Roup is a word not commonly used in Shetland any more, although the Shetland Times in 1962 advertised a house in Scalloway “for sale ...

Read more

Shetland Amenity Trust celebrates collaboration with Shetland Family History Group in acquiring Gilbert Goudie’s Notebook

Shetland Amenity Trust is delighted to announce the successful acquisition of a significant 19th century notebook to the Shetland ...

Read more

Shining a light on Ann Harriet Pottinger this International Women's Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2024 we shine a light on Ann Harriet Pottinger, née Hunter, one of many unsung, hard-working ...

Read more

Be My Valentine

It’s that time of year, Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February. In the Shetland Archives Catalogue references to Valentines are ...

Read more

Old style islands courtships

We’re warming ourselves up to the idea of Valentine’s Day. Some might say Shetlanders are not renowned for being romantics and ...

Read more

A Fragment of Viking-Norse Life

One of the results of years of peat-cutting in Shetland is that occasionally interesting objects are revealed. So it was the case in ...

Read more

Shetland's War Memorial - constructed by William Horne

Shetland’s War Memorial on Hillhead is now one hundred years old, and was rededicated with a ceremony on 6 January. The memorial ...

Read more

Christmas in Shetland - 1923

1923, like many of the years between the wars, was not a good one. The Shetland Times year end report spoke of a poor herring fishing, ...

Read more

New poetry book - ‘Love in Human Herts’

‘Love in Human Herts’, a new publication celebrating Vagaland’s finest poetry has been launched today by the Shetland Amenity ...

Read more

The funny story behind some of Lerwick's street names

In the 1880s Lerwick was changing rapidly. As the great herring fishery of that era developed, there were new streets, and potential ...

Read more

National Poetry Day

To celebrate National Poetry Day we asked assistant archivist (and poet) Mark Smith to uncover a hidden gem from the archives. This ...

Read more

Treasure Trove Comes to Shetland

Members of the public are invited to come along with their ‘treasures’ and meet experts from Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit ...

Read more

Shetland Museum and Archives Launches New Online Archive Catalogue

A new online Archives catalogue has been launched today (Tuesday 8 August) at the Shetland Museum and Archives.

Read more

Alanbrooke and the Kearton Brothers

When archivist Angus Johnson started to read through his copy of Alanbrooke's War Diaries, he did some digging in the archives to see ...

Read more

Preparing for the herring – photos from the archives

George Gen and Sarah Mackintosh, members of our Visitor Experience team have pulled together a selection of photos from our online ...

Read more