Brochs: the prehistoric castles of Scotland

In Scotland, the past is still very much present. In rural areas you can hear people speaking Scots Gaelic or Lowland Scots like their forefathers did. There are castles and stone circles all over the region. The most enigmatic remains from the past are the brochs.

Brochs are mysterious drystone towers dating to around two thousand years ago. Built without mortar or nails, they’re architectural wonders, yet nobody is sure what they were for.

The best example surviving today is the broch of Mousa, pictured above in this photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Built around 100 B.C., it still stands to its original height of 13 meters (43 ft). A stairway cleverly constructed inside the thick wall spirals up to the top, where a walkway offers a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.

Archaeologists used to think brochs were fortresses, a sort of prehistoric castle. This idea has given way to theories that they were homes of the elite or even simple farmhouses. This former archaeologist thinks the original theory is more likely. To me they feel like forts, and are far more imposing than the standard homes of the day. Plus in Lowland Scots the word brough means fort. In Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, borg also means fort. The Vikings reused some brochs as fortified bases from which the ransack the countryside. Many brochs have earthen ramparts around them, or are located on easily defensible spots such as beside a cliff or on an island in a loch.

%Gallery-130017%It’s hard to say how many brochs there are in Scotland because archaeologists argue over which sites are brochs and which aren’t. Estimates vary from barely a hundred to almost six hundred. Most are clustered in the far north, especially on the windswept Shetland and Orkney islands. Researchers can’t agree on when they were built either. Most agree it was from about 500 BC to 200 AD, but they can’t get more precise than that. This was the Iron Age, when competing tribes fought over land and crafted elaborate weapons and jewelry.

Perhaps the oldest known broch is being excavated right now. A broch at Nybster in Caithness may date back to 500 or even 700 BC, although it’s unclear if these early walls constituted a broch or if the broch was built on top of it. Prince Charles visited the excavation this week. Charles studied archaeology at university and has even gotten the royal hands dirty on several excavations.

All this academic debate just adds to the mystery. Located in the rugged far north of Scotland, often in remote areas, they can’t fail to impress. The sheer effort and skill required to build them in such a hostile environment commands respect.

They have more mysteries to offer up too. Inside there’s often evidence for rooms, floors, or other structures, but none have survived in good enough shape to show what they were used for.

To learn more about brochs and ancient Scotland, check out the BBC’s Mysterious Ancestors website.

New British beer is first to contain Viagra, commemorates Royal Wedding

Prince William may be losing his hair, but it seems a bit presumptuous to assume that he’s lost his mojo, as well. But that won’t stop Scottish craft brewer BrewDog from releasing Royal Virility Performance on April 29th. The world’s first beer to be enhanced with Viagra, the 7.5-percent ABV India Pale Ale also contains purported natural aphrodisiacs Horny Goat Weed and chocolate, as well as “a healthy dose of sarcasm.”

The beer was specially created to honor the upcoming Royal Wedding, and features a label with the words, “Arise Prince Willy,” and “Celebrate Big Willy Style.” BrewDog has sent several bottles to Prince William for the wedding night (no comment yet from the Royal Family, but one senses the brewery should perhaps have targeted Prince Charles, who is in a more appropriate age demographic).

Just 1,000 bottles of the ale, which retails for £10 a pop, will be produced for the time being (available here; one bottle limit per customer), although production will continue if it’s a uh, big success. All proceeds go to the charity Centrepoint, which Wills supports. According to James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, says, “As the bottle says, this is about consummation, not commemoration.”

BrewDog claims that consuming three bottles is equivalent to taking one Viagra. No comment on how sexually attractive you’ll be with that beer gut.

Christmas greetings from Buckingham Palace

If you’ve ever been curious about what goes on behind close doors at Buckingham Palace, now is your opportunity to get more than a peek: the Queen has launched her own You Tube channel!

Celebrating 50 years of the Queen’s first televised Christmas address, this year, you will be able to watch her Christmas speech on the video-sharing network. At the moment, the site opens to her Christmas talk from 1957.

Called the Royal Channel, it currently has 18 videos that go as far back as 1917 and include: the Queen Mother’s wedding (1923), Palace garden parties, her accession and coronation, her relationship with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and part one of a day in the life of Prince Charles. It’s their way of being more accessible to the youth and people around the world.

Not home videos and nothing close to reality television, it’s merely an official peek (but a peek nonetheless) into many aspects of the royal family’s life.

Tour Prince Charles’ London Home

After the chaos caused by the gang of knuckle-headed terrorists (I’m being kind) cools off over in London, it may tickle your fancy to take a walk up to the Clarence House. For those that follow royalty as if were a part of their very own family heritage, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are allowing visitors to tour their London digs. The 19th century stucco mansion will have tours up until October 8 and by appointment only. Admission for adults is somewhere around $13 and children must give up $7 of their monthly allowance to be able to step inside.

In addition to forking over their hard-earned change children must be clean; clothing pressed – without a wrinkle; hair-slicked back – extra gel; well-mannered and delightful little souls to say the least. Oops, so the last few requirements were some of my own, but if I were Princess of Duchess allowing the general public to view my residence I’d have rules more strict than the most uppity of nightclubs and two doors men named Brutus and Fidel. Just so no one gets any ideas.

It should be a pretty cool tour for those who make it there in time to see the Clarence House.

via USA Today