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Accommodation in the Highlands
Castle of Mey, Scottish Highlands
Location: Thurso, Caithness, KW14 8XH (map and directions)
The Castle of Mey is located on the north coast of Caithness, 15 miles east of Thurso and just
six miles west of John O’Groats. Its location has earned it the title of the most northerly inhabited
castle on the British mainland. It is also the only property The Queen Mother personally owned.
Castle of Mey © Dave Simpson
History of Castle of Mey
Built in the 16th century between 1566 and 1572 by George Sinclair, the 4th Earl of Caithness,
this three-story Z-plan tower house was then passed to Sinclair’s son William. At this time,
the name was changed to Barrogill and the castle became the seat of the Earls of Caithness.
Extended several times in the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle was again extended in 1821 by
William Burn, who altered the style from Tudor Gothic.
In 1928 the castle was purchased by Captain Imbert-Terry and used as an officers’ rest home
during World War II. After this time, the Castle of Mey sat in disuse until it was purchased by The
Queen Mother in 1952, when she was widowed after the death of King George VI earlier that year.
The Queen Mother fell in love with what was then known as Barrogill Castle, and dedicated efforts
to restore it and the garden. Reinstating the original name of the Castle of Mey, she spent many
August and October months at the castle over the next half-century, her last visit being in October
of 2001 at 101 years of age, before her death in 2002.
Although The Queen Mother restored and updated the castle, she did not completely refurbish it.
Instead, the Castle of Mey has traditionally been kept as it was found in the 1950s, and has been
compared to a time capsule of that era. A visit to the Castle of Mey is as much about catching a
glimpse into the life of The Queen Mother as it is about the castle itself. Her blue Wellingtons and
raincoat hang in the front hall; her homely sitting room is still as it would have been if she were
present today. A more humorous side to the castle can be found in the form of tacky trinkets like
Nessie statues and other cheap gifts, provided by many of her younger guests as an ‘Thank you’
for their time at the castle with the Queen Mother.
The Castle of Mey is made up of 38 rooms, which include 15 bedrooms, three reception rooms,
a library and a billiards room. There is also a trap door in the floor of the dining room which leads
directly to a dungeon.
Castle of Mey © Jack Spellingbacon
As an extremely avid gardener, The Queen Mother sought to create gorgeous gardens in her
own personal abode similar to the ones she grew up surrounded by at Glamis Castle. There
are two gardens on the castle grounds: a two-acre walled garden at the west of the castle and
an enclosed one on the east side which feels a bit like a secret garden. The walled garden
contains various spaces, such as a flower garden, a shell garden and a rose garden. Raspberries,
strawberries and even globe artichokes are also grown successfully in this very northern setting.In July of 1996 the castle was opened to the public through the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey
Trust. The castle and grounds are open from 10am-5pm daily from 1 May to 30 September with
the exception of ten days in July when the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay (Prince Charles and
Camilla) stay at the castle.
There is also an animal centre on the property which was opened in the old granary in 2007 and is
now home to a wide range of farm animals where younger visitors especially enjoy learning about
cattle, sheep, rabbits, piglets, chicks, ducks and even donkeys.
Though this northernmost castle receives thousands of visitors annually, rumour has it that there
is one permanent visitor who never leaves: The Green Lady, the daughter of George, 5th Earl
of Caithness. In life she was known as Elizabeth Sinclair, a woman who fell in love with a local
ploughman and was imprisoned in the castle attic. In protest and anger, Elizabeth jumped from the
window and died, and is said to haunt the castle through to today.
View Castle of Mey in a larger map
Other castles in Scottish Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle
Castle of Mey
Castle of Old Wick
Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle