history is being re-written after archaeologists made new
discoveries about a landmark stronghold that was once the seat of
the earls of Caithness.
They found the site had been built on a century earlier than
previously thought, and that two ruins - Castle Sinclair and
Girnigoe Castle - are, in fact, part of the same structure.
A trust working to preserve the remains has adopted the amalgamated
title of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, as both names have been well
known for so long.
Work has started on the first repairs to the castle in 300 years
after it was named on a World Monuments Fund list of the world’s
most endangered heritage sites - the list also included the Great
Wall of China and the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
It has long been thought that Castle Sinclair was built in the 17th
century as an annexe to the 15th-century Girnigoe Castle, near Wick.
However archaeologists now say a castle was built on the site in the
late 14th or early 15th century - nearly 100 years earlier than
It is believed the West Gatehouse - mistakenly called Castle
Sinclair - formed part of a gate-keep tower of an earlier building.
The archaeologists also believe the Tower House - or Girnigoe Castle
- was completed in the 16th century.
Malcolm Sinclair, the 20th Earl of Caithness, who put the buildings
in the care of a trust and has been promoting an international
appeal to raise more than £1 million to preserve them, said the
information would "heave a boulder into the history of the north".
The study, costing £80,000, was undertaken by specialists at York
University as part of a conservation plan for the buildings. It was
funded by the Clan Sinclair Trust whose patron is Prince Charles,
after he agreed to succeed his grandmother, the Queen Mother.
Lord Caithness said: "The 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 the importance of this site much greater than
had been previously thought. We now have evidence of a castle on the
site about 100 years earlier than was thought and it was 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 castle."
The report says it is likely that confusion over the castle’s name
arose in 1606, when George, the fourth Earl of Caithness, obtained
an act of parliament to change the name from Castle Girnigoe to
As this was one of the periods of remodelling, only the new part
became known as Sinclair. The report says: "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."
Girnigoe Castle was said to have been built in the late 15th century
by William, the second Earl of Caithness, whose father founded
Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian, in 1446.
George, the fifth earl, later added a new building, known as Castle
Sinclair, to create what was described as the finest nobleman’s seat
in the north of Scotland.
The castle survived a series of attacks during the tempestuous
Caithness clan feuds during medieval times, but it was ruined in
1690 when it was hit by cannon fire and was never inhabited again.
Following the attack, the Sinclairs shifted the clan seat to
Barrogill Castle, which later became known as the Castle of Mey when
it was bought by the Queen Mother in 1953.