Once the summer home to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, today it stands in testimony to her love of Caithness.
Distance from Mey House: 1 Mile
Google maps link: http://goo.gl/maps/JD1XE
We first visited the Castle and its walled garden in 2006 when, on a day trip from Durness to John O’Groats with our respective ‘olds’, we stopped at the Castle on an unplanned visit. Both of our Mothers were obsessed with beautiful gardens and my Mum was a lover of all things ‘Royal’ so it was a no brainer for us to call in.
The castle was built in the 16th century by the 4th Earl of Caithness and it remained the property of the Clan for 300 years during which time it underwent extensive remodelling.
By the time Elizabeth bought it in 1952, the castle and its grounds were in a poor state. Once renovated, Her Majesty would visit every summer for several weeks to get away from the hubbub of Royal life and to entertain friends and family (the Queen, Prince Philip and all of her grandchildren have all visited). When in residence, she lived quite plainly with minimal fuss which is probably why, of all of the royal residences, Mey was her favourite.
We bought tickets for a guided tour of the castle and whilst we waited for our allotted time, we headed for the walled gardens. Passing through the heavy wooden door was truly like entering ‘The Secret Garden’, transitioning from the rural landscape of Mey into a horticultural wonderland. The Mums were in rapture, oohing and ahhing every few metres (I did get them to sit still for a few moments on The Queen Mum’s favourite bench so that I could capture a photo, it’s one of my treasured memories). When it was time, we wrestled the ladies from the grasp of the gardens and headed for the Castle’s front door where we met our guide.
The inside of the castle is in a time warp and just as it was when the Queen Mother was last there. We were surprised to find the castle so simply furnished; no ornate furniture, no grand dining room, threadbare carpets and a TV which was considered old fashioned even when Elizabeth was using it. It’s no wonder Princess Margaret never stayed at the castle, I should think it was far too plain for her taste!
The tour took about 45-50 minutes to complete and it was a fascinating insight into the private life of a Monarch. When I asked my Mum what she thought of her impromptu visit to a Royal home she said, “The Castle was as uncomplicated as the Queen Mother herself” and I think that says it all.
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.
RECOMMENDATION: The castle has an excellent gift shop and café.