Built in the 16th century by the 4th Earl of Caithness it eventually became the home of The Queen Mother.
Distance from Mey House: 1 Mile
Google maps link: http://goo.gl/maps/JD1XE
We had driven past the castle several times over the years without ever registering it was there which is a surprise when you consider that there is a big brown tourist sign on the main road announcing its presence. The only reason I can give for this oversight is that it is so close to John O’Groats that we must have been nattering about our visit there to whomever happened to be in the car at the time and just driven straight past. Don’t make the same mistake we did!
The original structure (more of a fortified house than a castle) was built in 1573 by the 4th Earl of Caithness, George Sinclair, for his second and favourite son William. William was murdered by his elder brother John who in turn was murdered, probably on the command of his Father (who was not a very nice man by all accounts). Eventually it passed into the ownership of the third son who managed to avoid an early death to become the 5th Earl!
Unfortunately, the spectre of an unnatural demise stayed with the castle when the 5th Earl’s daughter fell to her death from the window in the tower room. It is said that Elizabeth Sinclair had been imprisoned there by her Father to stop her from seeing a local ploughman with whom she had fallen in love. Whether her death was an accident, suicide or murder nobody knows but today, her ghost can sometimes be seen drifting around the castle.
The castle remained the seat of the Clan Sinclair with a heritage too deep to explore here but one of the Earls worthy of a special mention is the 14th Earl. A lover of technology, he owned the first steam car in Scotland and also created a ‘science room’ in the castle wherein he invented many mechanical and electrical devices becoming so knowledgeable that he tutored the Prince of Wales, (later King Edward), in engineering. The Prince visited the Castle during a visit to the region in 1876.
Today, the castle has an essence of the original structure but because of its continuous 400 year occupation, it has received many updates and modifications. Does this detract from its originality? Well, yes it does but its provenance is so strong and its metamorphosis so measured that the castle of today is a gem, even if it does lack visual drama (a consequence of The Castle of Mey being in such great condition).
Of course, it is the ownership and occupation by the Queen Mother that grabs today’s visitors and it is her tenure that dominates. However, take some time whilst visiting to see the rich and colourful history of the castle that lies still and deep just below the surface.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The castle is generally open May to September but check their website to confirm as the castle is shut during Prince Charles’ annual visit.
GREAT FOR: Heritage, history and a beautiful garden (see the post in the ‘Visitor Attractions’ section).
RECOMMENDATION: Stay in the Castle or Orkney Suites at Mey House and enjoy the view over the castle.