|Braal Castle, Caithness
Map Ref: ND 137601 Landranger Sheet 12 - Link
Braal Castle is barely noticeable unless you go looking for it - the ancient keep being hidden amongst mature trees close to the River Thurso and standing remarkably complete adjacent to a former mansion house in the lovely town of Halkirk. Most Castles in Caithness occupy dramatic, high profile sites with impressive natural defences but Braal is hidden snugly away - the River Thurso providing its only natural protection.
The castle probably dates from the mid-14th century. In 1375 or 1376, Robert II granted to his son David Stewart, the “Castle of Brathwell” and all the lands thereof. In 1547, the castle was in the possession of George, Earl of Caithness. Some traditions say that a castle stood here in the 13th Century and was occupied by Harold, Earl of Caithness, but the style of the existing structure definitely indicates a later date.
In 1450, James 2nd bestowed Brathwell (or Braal as it became known later,) upon Sir George Crichton, the High Admiral of Scotland along with the Earldom of Caithness. Sir George had already inherited Dunbeath Castle from his mother at this time but Braal reverted to the Sinclairs upon his death in 1455.
The tower is a rectangular structure built of rubble, still standing to the top of the second storey with walls 8 to 10 ft in thickness. The keep measures 35ft by 37ft externally. The entrance door is in the SW angle at first floor level and would probably have been approached by a detachable and retractable timber stair.
The basement is unvaulted and contains no external door - access being by trapdoor from the room above. The only wall openings in the basement are two narrow loopholes with wide internal bays, arched over.
The hall was on the first floor measuring 22ft by 19ft and was lit by small wide-arched windows with stone seats in the ingoes. There is also a garde-robe (toilet) in the thickness of the wall.
The upper floor is reached from a straight staircase from the ingoe of the entrance doorway in the thickness of the SW wall, at the top of which there would have been another access leading to a parapet walk. Unfortunately the battlements have now disappeared but the artistic reconstruction by Andrew Spratt shows how the castle would have looked in its prime. Notice the defensive hoarding, shown here under construction, which allowed defenders to drop material upon attackers at the base of the keep.
Unusually for a castle site in Caithness, the absence of any natural defences (apart from the River Thurso) leads us to believe that the whole structure must have been surrounded with a defensive (barmkin) wall and Andrew has shown how this may have looked in his re-construction.
Braal was once occupied by the Sinclairs who started to build a more commodious structure about 100 ft by 50 ft at a later date, almost adjacent to the castle. This however was never completed above the vaults and it stood like this until 1856 when a new house was built upon them and became a hotel, which I believe, is now being converted into flats.
It is perhaps fortunate that the second structure was never built as the stone from the original Braal castle would almost certainly have been used in the construction and this gem of a castle would not have survived to this day.