Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle

Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle’s on the far north mainland coast, in the county of Caithness, between Thurso and Wick, on Noss Head Lighthouse or Sinclair’s Bay are wonderful! Picked out in pink stone they have to be seen.

Unfortunately they are in bad repair and although there are moves underway to do something about this, it is a slow job. Be warned that the buildings can be dangerous and they are perched on steep cliffs. Keep a tight reign on any children that you have with you – or even consider not taking them!

Girnigoe Castle

Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle: Present and Past:

Sinclair is one of the oldest surnames in Europe, first adopted by our ancestors in Normandy after a local saint, Saint Clare, and also spelled numerous ways, such as Sinkler and St. Clair.

Several years ago the castle was listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is the only castle in Scotland to be listed by the World Monuments Fund. This once impregnable medieval / renaissance stronghold is now the most spectacular ruin in the North of Scotland and is the subject of a preservation programme by its owner, The Clan Sinclair Trust. The castle, the ancestral seat of the earls of Caithness, has potential to be one of the area’s top tourist attractions.

Girnigoe Castle

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe was originally thought the castle was built sometime around the end of the 15th century with a later addition in the 1600s. A local story goes that it was destroyed by cannon fire in the latter part of that century when George Sinclair of Keiss stormed it. However, another one says that it simply fell out of favour and was abandoned after Oliver Cromwell’s troops tried to destroy it.

The keep of Castle Girnigoe still stands 14 to 17m high, the walls being 1.2 to 1.7m thick. The range of buildings to the NE is now a turfed-over foundation, 1.5m in maximum height. The outer ditch appears to have been a natural gully utilised as a defence. The ruined piles of Castles Girnigoe and Sinclair, a few miles north of Wick, Caithness, which form a conspicuous landmark on the cliffs facing Sinclair Bay near Noss Head. In the distance is Achergill Tower.

Girnigoe Castle

In recent years, excavations at the site of the castle have unearthed more walls than had previously been thought to exist, and foundations of other buildings have been discovered, leading to a rethink on when it was actually constructed. The best guess now it that it was built at least 100 years before what had been originally thought.

Fact and fiction are entwined in this place and it is difficult to separate the two. Yet, as in most legends, there must be some truth in the stories. Whatever the truth, the Sinclair legends will endure, regardless of ever-changing history and new evidence coming to light. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe still stands proud on the rocky cliff-top overlooking the vast bay, and that is fact. With care and attention, it will hopefully remain a significant part of the Caithness landscape for another 500 years or more.

Girnigoe Castle

A new addition to the castle grounds is almost complete and will add another piece of history to the castle. This year, visitor access to the castle will become much safer with the new footbridge in place. But the dangerous beauty of the castle will remain.

The Castle will be open to the public from the beginning of May to the end of September 2010. It may be closed to the public occasionally during these times due to health and safety for the on going conservation and preservation works. A new bridge to the Castle Sinclair Girnigoe was opened to provide permanent and safe access for the future. Everyone is welcome to come and look at the Castle from the new access road that has been made to it and there are interpretation panels there. It is a fairly level walk of about half a mile from the car park near Noss Head but good walking shoes are recommended.

The land through which the track passes is specially farmed for its special habitat which has enabled it to be an important breeding area for ground nesting birds and other species so please keep dogs on the lead.

The Clan Sinclair Visitor and Study Centre, Noss Head Lighthouse or Sinclair’s Bay, Wick

Girnigoe Castle

The Clan Sinclair Trust was formed with the main objective of rescuing and preserving Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, and of developing a visitor centre and library.

The Clan Sinclair Study Centre is at Noss head Lighthouse on the outskirts of Wick. The Preceptory of Prince Henry St Clair stands within the grounds of the Noss head Lighthouse Estate, which also includes the Clan Sinclair Library and Study Centre.

In the Study Centre, as well as a great number of historical books and documents, also intend to include a genealogical section, that will help Sinclairs to trace their roots. The Clan Library contains many rare books on the Templars plus many other subjects which may be studied by appointment, contact i…

Caithness Archaeology Trust is running community digs throughout this project and would-be volunteers should contact the trust on 01593 731269.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
E-mail: chi… or chi…
Official Website: Castle Sinclair Girnigoe: and its owner The Clan Sinclair Trust:

Further recommended reading:

  • Castle Girnigoe Records At The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
  • Castle Sinclair Records At The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
  • Rebuilding Process Of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
  • Castles Sinclair and Girnigoe and the Origin of the Clan Sinclair
  • Dedicated for Clan Sinclair History and heritage, community, publications and resources
Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle, between Thurso and Wick on Noss Head Lighthouse or Sinclair's Bay In Caithness


Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
Wick between Thurso and Wick on Noss Head Lighthouse /Sinclair’s Bay
Caithness KW1 4QT
Scotland, UK

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