AN AMBITIOUS project to bring the prehistoric legacy of Caithness in the far north of Scotland to life with a world heritage Iron Age broch site and visitor attraction now has the backing of The National.

More than 300 people from all over Scotland and across the globe have already signed up to become members of this exciting Caithness Broch Project to help promote and preserve the area’s historic structures.

The National is delighted to become the project’s media partner to help boost a host of major events lined up to celebrate Scottish Government’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 and achieve its ultimate goal of becoming a world heritage centre similar to the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney site.

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Proposals for next year include an archaeology festival, with excavation at several brochs with the help of the University of the Highlands and Islands Orkney Archaeology Institute, a tour of schools with a specially designed Lego broch, working with the local Caithness Horizons museum, and a host of community outreach projects.

The project team are also looking at the consolidation and conservation of an existing broch in Caithness, called Ousdale, which was, until recently, the finest broch in the area but it has sadly fallen into disrepair.

Kenneth McElroy, chairman of the Caithness Broch Project, said: “We are delighted to have the backing of The National newspaper as media partner and we look forward to working with them to help promote this fantastic area.

“We believe these projects will not only raise awareness of Caithness’ archaeology amongst both the local and wider community, but it will also instil a sense of ‘pride in place’ for those living in Caithness.

“Our ultimate aim is to construct a replica broch, which would serve as a first-class visitor attraction and vivid ‘living history’ experience. We believe that this iconic structure would attract visitors from all over the world, providing Caithness with a sustainable asset for the local economy.”

The project, which is a registered charity, has five directors and two committee members from all walks of life who have been working to come up with ideas to promote the area’s rich history while boosting the economy, which has suffered in recent years with the decommissioning of the nuclear plant at Dounreay.

The team’s ultimate goal is to build an Iron Age roundhouse, known as a broch, using ancient methods and the stone structure will be modelled on a similar building in Shetland constructed about 2,000 years ago.

The National’s editor Callum Baird said: “For too long this area has gone unrecognised for its outstanding archaeological heritage and we were so impressed by the hard work and dedication of the project team we just had to be part of their amazing journey.”

Caithness has over 180 brochs, more than anywhere else in Scotland, however, most of them have been left to crumble for many years and only remnants remain.

To recreate a 13m-high drystone tower, the Caithness Broch Project, will have to raise in the region of £1 million and local tradespeople skilled in Caithness drystone dyking methods will be brought in to construct the broch, with building work estimated to take three years. It will house replica furniture, such as stone beds lined with moss, a tourist centre and a neighbouring workshop where visitors will learn how the broch was created.

McElroy said: “We already have over 300 new members from all over the world, which is brilliant in such a short space of time, but we need more because we are going to need a lot of help and support getting something like this off the ground.

“Caithness is a real hidden gem in Scotland and has been overlooked because it is so close to Orkney but it does have fantastic archaeology and more brochs than anywhere else in Scotland.”

Archaeology Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland (HES), VisitScotland and Dig It! 2017, have all given their backing to the broch project and want it to succeed.

Eila Macqueen, director of Archaeology Scotland, said: “Caithness is one of Scotland’s hidden archaeological secrets, often overlooked as tourists head across the water to the better known sites in Orkney. We are very keen to see the Caithness Broch Project grow and succeed and admire the passion and enthusiasm of the volunteers.”

HES said it “very much” supports the project and has been helping the team with their plans.

Nicola Hall, HES senior heritage management officer, said: “We very much support the significant work the Caithness Broch Project are doing to highlight the importance of brochs in Caithness. To date, we have been working with them on their plans to improve access and interpretation at a number of brochs, as well as helping them to obtain expert advice on their consolidation. We look forward to seeing this project develop further.”

John Thurso, chairman of VisitScotland, believes the project’s goal of building a broch could be a “real jewel in Scotland’s crown”.

He added: “It is fantastic to hear, with the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 almost upon us, that this very exciting project is continuing to move forward.

“The Broch, which I have been a great supporter of for some time, has the potential to become a real jewel in the crown for tourism in the north of Scotland while also building on existing archaeological work in the area and offering real learning opportunities.”

Dr Jeff Sanders, of Dig It! 2017, a year-long celebration of Scottish archaeology as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, said Caithness is overflowing with hidden gems just waiting to be uncovered.

He added: “We are looking forward to working with the Caithness Broch Project to make the most out of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.”