MHG2515 - Dounreay Castle


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Type and Period (1)

  • CASTLE (Medieval to 19th Century - 1058 AD to 1900 AD)

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Full Description

Dounreay House (NR) (In Ruins)
OS 6"map, Caithness, 2nd ed., (1907)

Dounreay Castle is built on the L-plan and is closely comparable with Lowland tower-houses. The main block measured 39ft 6ins by 23ft 8ins, and the wing 14ft 4ins by 18ft 6ins, with walls some 3ft 6ins thick. It consisted of two storeys and an unvaulted basement. The castle probably dates from the second half of the 16th century. In 1614 it was the property of William Sinclair of Dunbeath, and in 1726 it is described as "one of the Earl of Caithness's lodgings". It remained in occupation until 1863, but was unroofed and ruinous by 1910.
D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92; W Macfarlane 1906-8; RCAHMS 1911; R Gordon 1813.

The remains are generally as described above, but are in a very dilapidated condition. NW angle has collapsed and the N wall is bulging out at the top. The interior is a mass of fallen masonry.
Visited by OS (N K B) 20 November 1964.

Dounreay Castle (NR) (remains of) OS 6" map, (1967)

Dounreay Castle is as described and illustrated by the previous authorities. Visited by OS (J B) 7 September 1981.

The monument consists of remains of a castle, probably dating from second half of16th century, and the site of its barmkin, or attached enclosure and associated ranges.
The castle is built on L-plan, the jamb projecting from S end of the SE wall, and greatly resembles Lowland Scottish towers of similar date, rather than the type more normal to Caithness, exemplified by Castle of Old Wick. The main block measures approx 12.2m NE-SW by 7.3m NW-SE across walls slightly over 1m thick, and jamb measures approximately 5.8m NE-SW by 4.5m NW-SE. The entrance is in re-entrant angle of jamb, which also contains a barrel-vaulted scale-and-platt stair to first floor hall. From landing at the top of stair a newel stair rises to upper floors, SW wall of the jamb being thickened to accommodate it without any external projection. The ground floor of main block is divided into 3 cellars and a passage. The cellars appear not to have been vaulted. The first floor is still divided into two rooms, and some evidence can be seen for room division on the upper floors. The fireplace in the hall (which has corbelling above) has been reduced in size, and several of the windows have been reduced in size or blocked during later phases of castle's habitation. Altogether, much of the dressed stone used in the castle has survived, showing the high quality of the original construction. This includes several shot-holes, a sink-outlet and aumbries within the window reveals.
Substantial remains of one of barmkin ranges run SE from SE wall of the jamb, the wall displaying the range's roofline, and tusking for the barmkin wall is also visible at N end of NE wall of main block. A range of (prob) C19th farm buildings, now disused, may succeed another barmkin range on this site and the N end of its rear (NW) wall may incorporate part of the barmkin wall.
Th castle first recorded in 1614 and was then property of William Sinclair of Dunbeath, but lands of Dounreay had been acquired by the Sinclairs of Dunbeath from Bishop of Orkney 1562 and 1564. Possession of lands was disputed by the Earl of Caithness, the brother of whom laid siege to castle in 1614. It passed through several different hands thereafter, but was described as 'one of the Earl of Caithness's lodgeings' in 1726. Inhabited until 1863.
NW angle of the castle has collapsed, together with part of the W wall, but the remains of the castle are otherwise relatively complete to wallhead level.
Info from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated June 1996.

Sources/Archives (5)



Grid reference Centred NC 9830 6692 (300m by 300m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NC96NE
Civil Parish REAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

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