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Skye, Caisteal Uisdein

Tower House (Medieval)

Site Name Skye, Caisteal Uisdein

Classification Tower House (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Uisdein Castle

Canmore ID 11121

Site Number NG35NE 1

NGR NG 38057 58257

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Snizort
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Skye And Lochalsh
  • Former County Inverness-shire

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Caisteal Uisdean (Hugh's Castle), probably early 17th century Sharp-edged, whinstone stump of an unvaulted tower overlooking the entrance to Loch Snizort Beag. The ground floor (basement) walls are devoid of openings, except narrow loopholes in deep embrasures. Signs of a first floor entrance can be seen on the west wall, with part of a steep mural stair ascending to an upper chamber on one side. Evidence of windows on three walls, and a fireplace in the north wall.

[Caisteal Uisdean is best known for its association with the lawless 'Uisdean MacGhilleasbuig Chlerich', nephew of Donald Gorm of Sleat. Having failed in his plot to murder his uncle and become chief in the early 17th century, he fled to Dun an Sticir on North Uist but was captured and conveyed to the dungeon at Duntulm, where he perished.]

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press

Archaeology Notes ( - 1961)

NG35NE 1 3804 5824.

(NG 3804 5824) Caisteal Uisdein (NR) (Ruin)

OS 6" map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., (1904)

Caisteal Uisdein - similar in type to Castle Maol (NG72NE 1), quadrangular on plan measuring externally 49ft 8ins x 32ft 9ins and orientated E-W. The walls vary from 7-9ft thick and are of random rubble. There are no mouldings or string courses, the basaltic material being unsuitable. A scarcement of 9ins on the side walls to carry the first floor beams shows that the ceiling was not vaulted. The basement is lit by two small loops only; there are no other openings. The doorway is in the first floor, 9ft above ground level. Four other indefinite openings in the walls, two in the S wall, and one each in the N and W walls are probably windows.

The tower is reputed to have been built by "Uistean Mac Ghilleaspuig Chlerich' about 1580 (RCAHMS 1928).

The spelling of the name on OS 6"map, (1904) is a typographical error (Name Book 1877).

(Name Book 1877; RCAHMS 1928).

Caisteal Uisdein; a 16th century tower as described above. Roofless but in good condition.

Visited by OS (A S P) 15 April 1961.


Field Visit (3 June 1921)

Caisteal Uisdein.

Overlooking the entrance to Loch Snizort Beag and ½ mile north of Hinnisdal River mouth, the ruin of Caisteal Uisdein stands within 3 feet of the edge of the abrupt rocky shores, about 45 feet above sea level. The walls rise unbroken to the first floor at an extreme height of 15 feet, and it is impossible now to determine the number of storeys of which the tower consisted. Similar in type to Castle Maol, the quadrangular plan measures externally 49 feet 8 inches by 32 feet 9 inches and lies nearly due east and west. The walls vary from 7 feet to 9 feet in thickness, are of random rubble and peculiar in that many of the stones are set on end and not on their natural bed. There are no mouldings, carvings or stringcourses; the basaltic material is unsuitable for this purpose. A scarcement of 9 inches on the lateral walls to carry the first floor beams shows that the ceiling was not vaulted.

The basement is lit only by two small loops, one in the west end of the north wall and the other in the east end of the south wall. From their width of 3 inches on the exterior face the loops splay inwards for less than half the thickness of the wall, where a breast is formed, from which the recess continues with rough flat segmental arched ceiling and square jambs to the interior. The southern window rises one step above the floor, as also does the northern window, which has also a step at the breast. There are no other openings.

Access to the castle is gained by a door, about 3 feet 6 inches wide, leading into the first floor from the west and 9 feet above ground. The south door jamb which remains shows a 4 –inch check, 2 feet 2 inches from the outside, the sconsions being at right angles to the wall, while those on the north suggest a slight splay. From the south of this door a flight of six steps 1 foot 11 inches wide has led in the thickness of the wall to the upper chambers. Internally the first floor measures 33 feet 11 inches by 19 feet. A fireplace is built on the north side, and four rather indefinite openings in the walls, two in the south wall and one in each of the north and west walls, seem to indicate windows. From what can be traced, the sconsions in the south-eastern windows appear to be at right angles to the wall. A 9 inch by 9 inch opening at the scarcement level and below the eastern jamb of the eastmost window in the south wall pierces the wall to the outside.

HISTORICAL NOTE. The story of ‘Hugh's Castle’ is to the effect that it was built about 1580 by ‘Uistean Mac Ghilleaspuig Chlerich (Hugh, the son of Archibald the Clerk), who was a very powerful and treacherous man’, as a factor in an intrigue against his uncle Donald Gorm Mor of Sleat. ‘This tower . . . was never entirely finished. It was erected on a rock by the seaside and had neither doors nor windows, but was to be entered on the top, by means of ladders, which could be pulled up and let down at pleasure’. Hugh was seized and left to die of thirst in the prison of Duntulm (1). The description is erroneous, but no retailer of the traditionary account, down to our own day, has ever thought of checking it. As detailed above, the place has both windows and a door, but it may be the case that it was never completed.

RCAHMS 1928, visited 3 June 1921.

Skye x. (‘Disdein’)

(1) New Stat . Acct., xiv., pp. 258-60 and 289-90.


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