Castle of Mey

(Barrogill Castle)

Castle of Mey, through the mist
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Castle of Mey, through the mist

A castle in the Caithness district of Highland Council Area, Castle of Mey stands on the shores of the Pentland Firth, some 6 miles (10 km) west of John o' Groats and 9 miles (15 km) east of Thurso. The castle was the principal Scottish residence of the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (1900 - 2002), who purchased it in 1952, shortly after the death of her husband King George VI, as a place for her to find solitude. When she bought the castle from Captain Imbert-Terry it was in a state of neglect. Over a number of years it was restored, and electric lighting and heating installed.

The castle was built on a Z-plan between 1566 and 1572 by George Sinclair, 4th Earl of Caithness (1527-82) as his family seat. The Sinclairs', who originally called the castle Barrogill, extended it in the 18th Century and again in 1819, when architect William Burn (1789 - 1870) added the porch and baronial features.

The castle comprises some 38 rooms, including 15 bedrooms, 3 reception rooms, a library and a billiards room. An imposing double staircase from the entrance hall leads to the principal rooms on the second floor. A trap-door in the floor of the dining room leads to a dungeon.

The castle was drawn in 1815 by William Daniell (1769 - 1837) with the resulting aquatint published in his Voyage Round Great Britain.

The Queen Mother regularly holidayed during August and October at the Castle of Mey and maintained a prize-winning herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle on its 810 ha (2000 acre) estate. In 1996, she created a charitable trust, which took ownership of the castle and the estate, with the intention of securing their future.

The gardens are occasionally open to the public.

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