Caithness Castles

Welcome to the Caithness Castles Pages.  This is a collaborative project suggested by Robert Richmond who has an interest in Scottish History, Castles, Caithness and Photography, Andrew Spratt who is custodian of Dirleton Castle, a historian and painter and Bill Fernie of Caithness.Org.  Information is being added frequently as new reconstructions become available and articles and introductions prepared.  

The aim of the project is to give an impression of what the castles would have looked like in their original state.  Using archived material, plans and information plus photographs of the sites Andrew is recreating the castles using historical material, drawings and pictures taken by Robert Richmond.  Articles have been provided by a variety of people including reproductions from the Caithness Field Club Bulletins and links are often made.  The articles by D B Miller written several years ago for the Caithness Field Club Bulletin are an invaluable resource in this project.  Further information is provided by Robert Richmond from his own research into each castle.  Photographs used are from Bill Fernie Robert Richmond, Margaret Bates and others.  Aerial photographs by Alan Moar in many of the sections add another perspective and show just how defensive many of the structures were.  From the air it it is also possible to see more clearly several of the ditches dug as part of the defences in front or or around many of the castles.

The number of castles that have actually been in Caithness is still open for debate.  Currently the highest number we have is 48 although many of these have no visible signs left today.  Those that have or for which there is evidence will be reconstructed here.  Let us know if you agree with the interpretation of the evidence as to how they might have looked.  We hope you enjoy this series on Caithness and its Castles.

30 June 2013
Sinclair Girnigoe Castle - Resolving The Names Issue By Malcolm Caithness
Sinclair Girnigoe Castle about 1300's Square staircase Keystone window from Florence

Malcolm Caithness has put together this short item to correct some earlier misconceptions about the name of the castle and the fact it is often described as two castles.  Three reconstructions show the development of the castle over 3 centuries.  The castle is partly open to the public and much archaeological work has been done by the Sinclair Trust in  recent years adding to the information about the castle.  

24 February 08
New Foot Bridge Improves Access At Girnigoe Castle
A new foot bridge is almost completed at Girnigoe Castle near Wick.  This will allow much improved access to the castle once it reopens to the public.  Much work has been done and archaeologists have been working over the past couple of years in the summer months to uncover more information about the castle.  The history of the castle has been rewritten based on many new discoveries.  This solid new footbridge will allow a much easier way into the castle than previously and is on the line where a drawbridge would have been.

6 May 07
Castle Of Mey Tearoom - Just Right For A Snack After Looking Round
The recently opened tea room at Castle of Mey is likely to be a hit with visitors.  Castle of Mey is now one of the biggest tourist attractions in the north of Scotland with many visitors arriving by road and by sea via boats calling at Scrabster.  Now they can get a drink and something to eat after their visit to the castle and gardens.  Castle Opening Times

 

Castle Of Mey Open for 2007 Season
Caithness is a county that is paradise for anyone interested in Castles.  With probably more castles and and fortified sites or earlier broch sites along the coast than almost any place in Scotland many interesting days can be spent checking them out.   Without doubt looking into Castles can be fascinating and Castle Of Mey is now one of the foremost attractions in the north of Scotland for visitors.  the castle is a small one but due to its royal connection is a very popular place these days.  The site has of course had a castle in place for hundreds of years and was formerly Barrogil.  The castle has walled garden for anyone interested in seeing the plants that will do well in the windy weather blowing in from the Pentland Firth

Caithness Castles Book
Michael Gunn hopes to produce his book on Castles and Fortified Houses Of Caithness the book is the work of many years of research into the buildings and the histories surrounding them.  the book will have limited print run of perhaps 1000 so if you want one get your order n now to Michael Gunn as it is not certain if there will be another print run. the book will be heavily illustrated with photographs and is likely to run out early as there are no recent books on this Caithness topic currently around.

Caithness Castles From The Air  - Latest Addition Freswick Castle 11 December 2004
As you probably know we are always looking for new perspectives on the Caithness Castles and this new section has been started following the generous offer by Alan Moar to allow us to use his photographs of the castles he takes when out flying.  The photographs are just one part of his growing collection on his web site Scotland Aerial Photos.  If anyone else has aerial photographs of the castles they would like to contribute please get in touch.

4 October 04
Girnigoe Scaffolding Reaches Epic Proportions

21 September 04
Scaffolding Going Up At Girnigoe Castle As Restoration Work Gets Under Way
The steeplejacks are now on site erecting scaffolding in advance of the next phase of restoration work on the castle.  the trust hope to get a reasonable amount of work done before the winter weather sets in.


 

29 August 04
Earl Of Caithness Shows Caithness Field Club Girnigoe Castle As Excavation Work Gets Going
Malcolm Sinclair, Earl of Caithness showed members of Caithness Field Club around Girnigoe Castle and in particular the places where archaeologists have begun their work on a number of excavations.  Almost anywhere they look they have made important discoveries.  Even holes dug to prepare foundations for scaffolding have uncovered walls and foundations of other buildings.  New towers, a barbican, a seat to wait on before the castle doors were opened and much more are being uncovered.   Much more is anticipated in the next 12 months.  The castle will remain closed to the public until at least August 2005 when it is hoped to allow closer views of the work in progress.

22 August 04
Malcolm Sinclair Earl Of Caithness Cut The First Turf In Major Excavation And Restoration Works
the Earl of Caithness, Malcolm Sinclair has cut the first turf a few days ago in what will be extensive archaeology and restoration works.  A team from York university is now on site to begin the work.  the current phase of the work will cost 400,000 and is being funded through the world Monuments Fund, the Caithness area of Highland Council, CASE, Historic Scotland and donors to the clan Sinclair Trust.  the castle is likely to become a major tourist attraction and will be one of the few to have disabled access built in to the castle when it eventually opens to the public once again.

9 April 04
CAITHNESS CASTLES  BOOK COMPETITION
WIN A FREE COPY OF THIS LIMITED EDITION BOOK AND A BEAUTIFUL
ENLARGEMENT PRINT OF THE CASTLE OF YOUR CHOICE.
Highland Heritage Press, publishers of Caithness Castles, are offering a prize draw with the winner getting a free signed copy of this limited edition book together with a beautiful enlargement print of the castle of your choice selected from those appearing in the book. There are over 200 illustrations so plenty to choose from.The draw will be held immediately prior to publication when the order numbers will be placed in a receptacle and the first one drawn will win a free copy of the book plus a superb A4 mounted print of the castle of your choice. Nine further order numbers will be drawn for the runners up who will receive a print each of the castle of their choice.

29 March 04
NEW BOOK ON CAITHNESS CASTLES
Caithness Castles and other fortified buildings

A history and guide to the strongholds and lairds houses of Caithness
by Michael J. Gunn
This book, the culmination of more than forty years of research by the author, recounts the histories and family connections of more than one hundred Caithness strongholds. It documents the growth and development of all types of fortified buildings in Caithness commencing with the Iron and Bronze Age hill forts and brochs, through the Viking and Norse strongholds, to the medieval castles and towers and the later lairds houses.

18 August 03
Freswick Castle

Michael Gunn provides some valuable insights into Freswick Castle down the centuries.  From the eleventh century right up to the present day.  The Castle has seen everything from its original viking owners though the period of unrest in Scotland and England and has appeared in many documents.  Most of its secrets are lost but the indications that remain point to its having been an important place thoughout much of Caithness history.  The present building is still in use by the writer and film maker Murray Watts ensuring that the castle continues to take its place in the Caithness landscape.

4 August 03
Lambaborg by Michael J Gunn

In this article Michel Gunn sifts through the references to Lambaborg including the Orkneyinga Saga and helps to clear up the confusion surrounding where it was and mistaken places such as Bucholie and Freswick which were other strongholds in the county at different or perhaps the same time.  "It achieved notoriety in the twelfth century when it became one of the lairs of the famous Viking pirate Svein Asleifarson (d.1171). Svein's main stronghold and long hall were on the island of Gairsay in Orkney but he also had possessions at Duncansby and Freswick in Caithness and in Sutherland".

22 July 03
Auld Wick by Michael J Gunn

With thanks to Michael Gunn for this detailed article on the Castle of Old Wick.

31 March 2003
Dunrobin Castle Pictures

OK we know it is not in Caithness but it is a beautiful place and open to the public.  Well worth a visit and the main house is open each year from 1 April.

23 October 2002
New Keiss Castle

Here is a new section to clarify the fact that there are two Keiss castles - the old one right on the beach and the later one that was originally Keiss House but was remodelled a hundred years or so after it was built.  In 1860 David Bryce was employed to give the house the castle look and many new additions were made to make it look more like a castle.

20 October 2002
East Coast Castles
A walk for Archaeology Week led by Geoff Leet of Caithness Field Club -

24 July 2002
Information On How The Castle Reconstructions Are Made
These pages are being added in response to enquiries about the authenticity of aspects of the castles in the final reconstructions.  Andrew Spratt has a wealth of knowledge and has carried out extensive research on each of the reconstructions.  As it might be interesting and add another dimension to the Castles section Andrew has agreed to provide some further background information that we will add here from time to time in order to help answer some of the questions being posed on aspects of the reconstructions.

Safety Warning
We must advise that although we are putting lots of information on about the Caithness Castles it must be remembered that these are mainly ruins and some of them are in spectacular settings.  They can be viewed from many angles and in safety. But going near to one or two should only be done with great caution as they often have no barriers or the sea or cliffs.  Certain ones are especially not recommended for young children to wander freely in as slopes often end on the cliffs and can be treacherous.  Ask for local advice or treat all ground cautiously near edges.  If in doubt keep well back from cliff edges.  Do not take dogs into the castle sites as they may cause you to lose balance.  Even older children should not be allowed to wander.  The pictures are best from slightly back anyway.

Note
Andrew Spratt retains copyright over any commercial reproductions of his work but individuals are free to make copies for their own non-commercial purposes.
Bill Fernie, Robert Richmond, Andrew Spratt 

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