|Berriedale Castle, Caithness
Map Ref: ND 122214 Landranger Sheet 17
28 July 03
In descending from the Ord of Caithness, Berriedale Castle was probably the first medieval fortification to be encountered, sitting on a tongue of rock projecting across the mouth of the Berriedale River. Berriedale Castle was developed from a 14th Century stronghold of Sir Reginald Cheyne who possessed so many of these structures in Caithness at that time that his influence on the county was very considerable. There may have been an even earlier fortification on the site.
The whole site is best viewed from the graveyard at Berriedale where there is a convenient lay-by as the main road twists and turns up out of the village going North. From here you can clearly see the natural defensive position upon which the castle was built. It is protected on the Western side by the confluence of the Langwell and Berriedale waters and on the North East and South by the sea. The landward approach, from the lower slopes of Inver Hill, is cut off by a deep man-made ditch 6 metres wide, cut through solid rock across the neck of the peninsula. By all accounts this was a difficult route in and great care had to be exercised in reaching the bridge - even in peaceful times.
The ditch would be crossed by a bridge and drawbridge to a gatehouse on the Northern side. There seems to have been an inner gate, beyond which may have been a killing zone and it is only once you have passed this point that you enter what was the courtyard of the castle dominated by a substantial keep. Buildings abutting the keep were probably a lean-to hall and kitchens and on the other side of the courtyard a stable block and other offices. The Northern end of the promontory seems to have been a yard in which other temporary timber buildings would have existed and the whole complex would have been enclosed within a defensive wall of enceinte, some 2.5 metres thick in places.
It is quite likely that there may have been a postern gate and a haven on the Western side of the promontory and the painting, taken from a Western perspective, shows a trebuchet on the Northern wall - a counterpoised war engine for hurling rocks. The flags flown are the colours of the Oliphants.
The castle was established by the Cheynes but passed through marriage to the Sutherlands and then the Oliphants who held it until it was disponed to the Earl of Caithness in 1606. The Lairds of Berriedale were also the Lairds of Old Wick Castle and they possessed about a quarter of the lands of Caithness at the height of their power.
For further information about these families click on the link to Historic Families of the North by D. B. Miller.