Sinclair & Girnigoe Castles, Caithness


 Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

New Patron and history of the Castle rewritten

New Patron
The Clan Sinclair Trust is honoured that H.R.H. Prince Charles, The Duke of Rothesay has accepted the invitation to become Patron in succession to his Grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

History rewritten
The draft Conservation Plan prepared by Field Archaeology Specialists of York University has been received by the Trust. The Earl of Caithness said ďThe drafting of such a Plan for the Castle is not only a major step forward in securing its long-term future but also has revealed just how much of its history that we have accepted is inaccurate and has to be rewritten. The identification of at least three major phases of development makes that history and importance of this site much greater than had been previously thought. We now have evidence of a castle on the site about a hundred years earlier than was thought and it as a much more important site than originally thought. The myth that there were two castles on the site has been laid to rest. It was always one castleĒ. The main revelations are

 q       The West Gatehouse (mistakenly called Sinclair Castle). This was thought to have been built in the early seventeenth century. There are now strong indications the lower part formed part of a gate-keep tower of an enclosure castle built in the late fourteenth century/early fifteenth century nearly one hundred years earlier than we believed any buildings were erected on site. Other parts of the castle also date from this time and it has to be assumed that other elements on the site, thus far not identified, also date to this early period.  The tower was remodelled in the sixteenth century (including the erection of some fine two-storey oriel windows).

q       The Tower House (often known as Girnigoe Castle). This has traditionally been dated to the end of the fifteenth century.  It is now clear that it is a significantly later building, and was probably only finally completed in its current form at the end of the sixteenth century.  However, it is erected on buildings of the fifteenth century, and the rest of the site contains impressive fabric from this period.  Furthermore, there is now evidence that this building did not form the first castle on the site. 

q       Curtain walling. Some of the curtain wall remains, the best piece of which adjoins the east of the Tower House, and this can be dated to the mid fifteenth century and thus earlier than the Tower House. The walling was remodelled then to take account of the increasingly common use of guns.

 q       The sea wall. This is shown on MacGibbon and Rossís plan of 1884 but there is no evidence that it ever existed and it does not appear on the Daniell print of the Castle dated 1821.

 q       Confusion over the name of the Castle. This is likely because in 1606 George (4th Earl) obtained an Act of Parliament to change the name from Castle Girnigoe to Castle Sinclair. As this was one of the periods of remodelling the new part only became known as Sinclair. To be correct that is what the castle should be called but as Girnigoe has stuck this long Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is the name the Trust have chosen.

The preparation of the Plan consists of an assessment of the history, development and significance of the site and its elements, the definition of any issues that might affect such significance, and the development of conservation policies that will retain and enhance this significance.  The results of the conservation plan process are then implemented, informing day-to-day management, programmes of repair and restoration.

The Plan itself is currently in a draft stage, and a process of consultation including in the County is about to be initiated.  Once complete, and once the Plan has been adopted, the next stage will be to implement proposals for the site in keeping with the spirit of the Planís policies.  The preparation of the Conservation Plan is the first big step in trying to secure the future of this very significant site. A dedicated website for the castle is being set up on with being changed to a clan website.

The Trust would like to thank Heritage Lottery Fund, Highland Council, Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise, Historic Scotland and donors to the Trust for their financial support that has made the Plan possible. It would also like to thank The World Monuments Fund, Caithness Archaeological Trust and many others for their support and help in the aim of the Trust to preserve this unique Castle.

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