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Unst, Muness Castle

Castle (16th Century), Formal Garden (Period Unknown)(Possible), Fortified House (16th Century), Lairds House (16th Century)

Site Name Unst, Muness Castle

Classification Castle (16th Century), Formal Garden (Period Unknown)(Possible), Fortified House (16th Century), Lairds House (16th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Mouness

Canmore ID 120

Site Number HP60SW 2

NGR HP 62955 01164

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Shetland Islands
  • Parish Unst
  • Former Region Shetland Islands Area
  • Former District Shetland
  • Former County Shetland

Archaeology Notes

HP60SW 2 62955 01164

See also HP60SW 31.

(HP 6295 0118) Muness Castle (NR) (In Ruins).

OS 6" map, Shetland, 2nd ed., (1902)

The erection of Muness Castle began in 1598. It was burned in August 1627 and whether the castle was ever repaired is doubtful. (W D Simpson) It is structurally complete, apart from its uppermost storey, which was almost entirely removed many years ago to provide material for the present enclosing wall. On plan it is an oblong block 73' 3" long by 26' broad, lying NW - SE, and having a circular tower attached to each of the N and S corners, as well as turrets corbelled out from the remaining corners at the level of the third storey. The masonry which is of local rubble is harled but has exposed dressings of freestone.

W B Armstrong 1881; RCAHMS 1946.

Muness Castle, as described and planned.

Visited by OS (RL) 2 May 1969.

Architecture Notes


National Library of Scotland

Zetland (MS 3037) plate XI - 1 drawing and water colour

Uncatalogued MSS of General Hutton, Vol I, No 186 - 1 rough sketch dated 1792

In an MSS Journal of a 'Visit' in 1832 and of an 'Expedition' in 1834, to Shetland,

by Edward Charlton, M.D., D.C.L., and a member of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries,

contained in the National Library of Scotland (Reference "MSS. 3037"), is a pencil sketch

by W. Cameron, of Mouness Castle.

According to Dr Charlton's story, this Castle was founded by a Scottish gentleman of the

name of Bruce, who, in difficulty because of the slaying of an adversary, was allowed to

settle, undisturbed, in Shetland. He bought land, and in the year 1508 completed the mansion

of Mouness. Now a ruin, it stands near the sea, and is 3 storeys in height, the principle walls

still remaining entire. It is surrounded by a few small 'hovels'. At two of the angles are round

towers rising from the ground, while at the two other angles are round corbelled turrets, in

the castellated style. The building stone in the local common chlorite slate, but the external

walls are faced with a fine freestone, probably from Orkney.

Above the dorrway, says the manuscript, is the following undefaced inscription upon a tablet

of fine freestone:-

"List ye to knaw, this building quha began

Lawrence the Bruce he was that worthy man

Quha arnestlie his ayris and afspring prayis

To help, and not to hurt this work alwayis"

Bound in the volume is a number of good water colour sketches of the scenery by T.M.Richardson,

one of Dr Charlton's companions evidently, while by Dr Charlton himself is in pencil a general

sketch of no great architectural interest of Lerwick from the sea, and a slight impression in pencil

of the Brough of Cullswick. This Brough, or strong point, says Dr Charlton, 2until within a few years

was more or less in a perfect state, until an avaricious proprietor demolished a large portion of it

for the sake of the materials, wherewith to erect a few paltry cottages, and the heavy gales of the

past winter have accelarated its destruction".

National Buildings Recors: Rough copy of the sketch of Mouness Castle by W.Cameron, attached to index

David Macgibbon and Thomas Ross, in "The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland"

give in Volume II the Ground, First and Second Floor Plans of this castle, which is actually situated

in the Island of Unst, near its SE extremity, and is the most Northerly edifice of its kind in these isles.

They give the spelling of the name as above, and it appears on some maps.

They accompany the plans with a somewhat hard pen and ink sketch, and with some sketches of



Publication Account (1997)

It is fitting that the most northerly castle in Britain should be an exceptionally fine architectural achievement. Muness is a small and beautifully proportioned defensive residence, compact and suited to a laird's family and yet up-to-date with contemporary fashion farther south as befitted its Scots laird, Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie 111 Perthshire (colour photograph on p.44).

The castle consists of a long rectangular main block, 22.3m by 7.9m, with circular towers at the north and south corners (the south tower is slightly larger than the north). The ground floor and the first floor survive virtually intact, but the second floor and roof were demolished many years ago. There were small turrets at the west and east corners of the missing upper floor, for the corbelling that supported them is still visible, adding a decorative note. The roof over the main block is likely to have been gabled, with conical roofs on the towers. There is a pleasing variety of gun-loops from relatively plain to quatrefoil.

The entrance is at ground-level on the southwest side of the building, covered by gunloops both in the main block and in the south-east tower. The door surround was brought here in 1959 from the old house at Lund, on the grounds that it may have been removed from the castle in the first place, but some architectural historians believe it to be work of the late 17th century rather than contemporary with the castle. The original carved panels survive above the door, the upper with Bruce's arms and initials and the lower with an inscription about the building of the castle.

List ze to knaw yis bulding quha began

Laurence the Bruce he was that worthy man

Quha ernestly his airis and offspring prayis

To help and not to hurt this vark aluayis

The zeir of God 1598

Listen you to know this building who began

Laurence the Bruce he was that worthy man

Who earnestly his heirs and offspring prays

To help and not to hurt this work always.

The year of God 1598.

Muness was built not by a Shetlander but by a Scot, Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie in Perthshire. He was a half-brother of Earl Robert Stewart and through him acquired lands in Unst and the means to build a fine castle there. Muness would have been a very comfortable residence, furnished with rugs and tapestries and probably gaily painted ceilings. There are traces in the ground south of the castle of outbuildings and possibly terraced gardens.

Inside the castle, the ground floor contains three storerooms and a large kitchen, all with vaulted stone ceilings, as well as a small room in each tower. The kitchen has a huge fireplace, with a circular oven for baking bread, and a sink in one corner. On the first floor, reached by a spacious stairway, there is a large hall with a fireplace (and a small alcove in the side of the fireplace where the salt could be kept dry). It is also served by a spiral stair from the storeroom, probably the wine cellar, below. Chambers at either end have fireplaces in the gable walls, and the larger north-west room was probably the laird's private quarters, with its own little stair to the bedchamber above. The towers provided spacious closets. There were also three rooms on the second floor.

Laurence Bruce gave the castle to his second son, Andrew, in 1617. It was attacked and burned by foreign privateers in 1627, less than decades after building began, and this splendid residence was never the same again. It was uninhabited before the end of the century, and the Bruce family sold it in 1718.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Shetland’, (1997).

Aerial Photography (17 February 2004)

The remains of what may be formal garden have been recorded on oblique aerial photographs (RCAHMSAP 2003), comprising a rectilinear enclosure with internal rectilinear subdivisions defined by low banks lying to the SW of the castle.

Information from RCAHMS (MMB) 17 February 2004


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