N E W S F E E D S >>>

Sinclair Connections

Sinclair Connections Index

Sinclair & Girnigoe Castles Pictures   

Sinclair & Girnigoe Castles on 2002 World Monument List of Endangered Sites

19 October 2001
World Heritage Status for Sinclair and Girnigoe Castles has been announced in New York. 
The castles have been placed on the list of only 100 sites (amended to 101 to include Lower Manhatten following the World Trade Center Attack)  in the world as most endangered sites of international significance.  They are to be included in the World Monuments Fund list next yearThe Earl of Caithness Malcolm Sinclair was in America for the news.

Only two sites in Scotland are now included in the list.  The other is the 19th century sugar warehouses at Greenock on the river Clyde.  The 100 sites on the list include places in England, India, Guatemala, Japan, Russia and China.

Whilst The earl was in New York John Thurso, MP for Caithness,  Sutherland and East Ross attended an event in London confirming the position on the World Monument Listing of endangered sites.  The Earl of Caithness gifted the castles to the Clan Sinclair Trust and is currently fundraising to prevent the castles falling into the sea and further deterioration.

The full list of World Monument sites on the 2002 list

Sinclair & Girnigoe Castles Today

The autonomous maritime principality of Caithness and Orkney is the most ancient in geographical Britain.  It is an area with which the Sinclairs have been associated 'even before the time of Christ'.  In about 1480 they built the massive and dramatically situated complex of Girnigoe Castle, located three miles north of Wick, on the site of a previous Viking fortification.  It has importance second to none in the medieval history of the north of Scotland and is the most spectacular ruin in this part of Britain. appearing to rise seamlessly out of the perpendicular cliffs.

Girnigoe is situated on a long narrow peninsula rock projecting into Sinclair's Bay and the North Sea, with sheer sixty foot sides down to the sea on three sides and a deep ditch separating it from the mainland.  this rendered it dramatically impregnable and it withstood every siege until canon was used.  Here battles were planned; expeditions to Europe, Greenland and the New world worked out, and besides the intrigue and plotting times of great merriment and laughter.  As was often the case, the accommodation offered by the Keep, outbuildings and underground dungeons was insufficient son in 1606 Sinclair Castle was built on the land to the east of the Keep and it too was protected from attack from the mainland by a deep ditch.  Girnigoe had been built for strength but Sinclair, with its finely carved corbels for supporting angle windows and turrets, in particular the lovely oriel window was built for beauty and more comfort.  In 1690 it, being closer to the mainland, received most of the punishing cannon fire when the castles again came under attack and is therefore in a greater state of ruin than Girnigoe.

The builders and owners of the castles were the Earls of Caithness, chief of 'the lordly line of high St Clair'.  there is a long and distinguished history attached to the family not only in Scotland and England but also in Europe and America "No family in Europe beneath the rank of Royalty boasts a higher antiquity, a nobler illustration, or a more romantic interest than that of St Clair". Descended from the Norse Jarls (Princes) in the ninth century, the earliest recorded involvement in Scottish history dates from 1057 when William ' The Seemly' St Clair, returned with a delegation sent by his father's cousin King Edward the Exile, to England.  Atheling Edward's daughter was Margaret who would marry King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland twelve years later.  Edward was given a piece of the Holy Rood by his friend King Andrew of Hungary to enhance his claim to the English throne.  Edward died upon reaching England and his great half uncle, Edward the confessor, raised the young Atheling mostly in a nunnery for twelve years.  During this time William the Seemly aided Malcolm Canmore to regain his throne, married, was given Rosslyn chapel in Life rent and fought against the armies of his cousin, King William (the Conqueror).  (It was his descendant that inherited the ancient Jarldom of Orkney and Caithness, which had come down another branch of the family, descended from the same Norse Jarls.  The Jarldom at one time included the Shetland Isles, the Faroes, Iceland, part of Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Western Isles of Scotland and Sutherland (the southern land of Caithness)

There is so much history of the Sinclairs and fascinating facts surrounding Girnigoe and Sinclair Castles that must be made available to the public.  There is the vital role played in the border disputes with England; the involvement with Robert the Bruce who gave his sword to a Sinclair with the inscription 'La Roi me donne, St Clair me poste' - ' the King gifts me, the Sinclair carries me'; the attempt to carry Bruce's heart to Jerusalem; the voyage by Prince Henry Sinclair to the New World in 1398; the succession to be King of Norway; the march from Caithness to the battle of Flodden; the links with Mary Queen of Scots; the activities of Cromwell's troops and the journeys into Europe are but some.  also important is the incessant feuding with the other clans in the area as fortune waxed and waned - 'Sinclair, Sutherland, Keith and Clan Gunn, There was never peace where these four were in'.  It was the loss of the last clan battle to the Campbells that led to the partial destruction of the castles in1690.  the family then moved to Barrogill Castle on the north coast and which is now known as the Castle of Mey, the home of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

One of our great advantage of this situation is that nothing has been done to them for over three hundred years.  Most castles of this period have been added to and altered so the original is no longer there.  Here we can recreate the position as it was in 1690and we have the added benefit of there still being rendering on some walls from this period so hopefully, after analysis, we can render the walls in the same mixture. This would give the castles and their fabric a special historic perspective.

The trust will develop a Study Centre, Archive and Clan Centre so that Clan members and members of the public can be more closely associated with the future of the Castles, research more closely into the distinguished history surrounding the Sinclairs and other Caithness families and thus enjoy and participate in an important part of the UK's heritage.  The nearby lighthouse complex at Noss Head is owned by Ian Sinclair and the trust will acquire it in stages.  The Study Centre will be housed in the main Grade A listed building which was designed in the Egyptian style by Alan Stevenson, the uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Besides the latest technology with genealogical records, the Centre will house a fine collection of historical and valuable books, many of which have already been donated by Niven Sinclair and the late Jim Whittall; from the United States.  The clan Sinclair Centre and Museum will be developed as soon as funds allow and the work on the Castles will be phased over 7 years.  the nature reserve is used by over 200 different species of birds on their migration also contains a number of rare plants and will be managed in agreement with the conservation bodies.

More information on background will be posted here shortly


Castle Girnigoe The Way It Was

The Castles Today

Clan Sinclair Trust
Patron: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
Chief Executive  - the Rt. Hon the Earl of Caithness PC

The Project. Caithness and Orkney were strategically important controlling the access to the North Atlantic and the New world from Europe.  the Sinclair family played a vital part in the history of Scotland from earliest times and the senior branch of the family having built Rosslyn Castle and the unique Rosslyn chapel then built Girnigoe Castle over 500 years ago - before columbus sailed the Atlantic.  To it they added the once spectacular Sinclair Castle.  Since being destroyed by canon fire, the years and the weather have further deteriorated the ruins.  the Trustees of the clan Sinclair Trust believe they owe a duty to future generations to take action at the beginning of this new millennium to secure the future of these listed ancient monuments, and to develop a Study Centre and clan Centre at the nearby Noss Head which is a Grade A listed building. 

Research carried out by the present Earl of Caithness shows there to be enormous interest from Clan Members, particularly overseas.  they not only wish to visit the area, see , touch and feel their roots but also require facilities for learning, family research, touring the area, enjoying gatherings and events in suitable surroundings with members of the Sinclair and Caithness families.

Girnigoe Foundation Plan