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between 12:00 Friday 15th December and 12:00 Monday 18th December


Dornoch, Castle Street, Bishops' Palace

Bishops Palace (16th Century)

Site Name Dornoch, Castle Street, Bishops' Palace

Classification Bishops Palace (16th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Dornoch Castle; Dornoch Castle Hotel

Canmore ID 14638

Site Number NH78NE 6

NGR NH 79717 89619

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2023.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Dornoch
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Sutherland
  • Former County Sutherland

Archaeology Notes

NH78NE 6 79717 89619

(NH 7972 8960) Bishop's Palace (NR) (Ruins)

OS 25" map, (1900).

For (associated) Dornoch Cathedral (NH 7971 8969), see NH78NE 5.

The remains of the Palace of the bishops of Caithness, now consist of a high tower with angle bartizans and crow-stepped gable. A round stair turret fills the angle between it and the kitchens on the east whose vaulted roof, huge fireplace and chimney stalk still remain though the building was heavily modernised in 1813.

The Palace is said to have consisted of three towers the survivor being the SW. A wing projected from the kitchens at right angles across what is now Castle Street about where the west gable of the Court House now stands. The north side of the court-yard was enclosed by a strong wall, with a gateway which stood a little east of the present position of the fountain in the square, and led into the Cathedral grounds.

Parts of the remaining walls of the Palace appear to be of considerable age but the large windows and angle bartizans are clearly of late date probably subsequent to the burning of the Cathedral and Palace in 1570. The ruins were partially restored in 1813 for use as a County Court House and Jail. It is now generally known as "Dornoch Castle".

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92; RCAHMS 1911, visited 1909; C D Bentinck 1926; W Calder 1948.

Remains of the Bishop's Palace as described, are in good condition and converted to a hotel, called 'Dornoch Castle Hotel'. According to the proprietor part of the fabric of the kitchens and cellar is 13th century.

Visited by OS (A A), 31 March 1971.

NH 7971 8961 A standing building survey and watching brief were undertaken during alterations to Dornoch Castle Hotel (former bishop's palace and jail; NH78NE 6) between August 2003 and February 2005. Previously unrecorded archaeological features included a possible bread oven and a moulded fireplace brace, both possibly dating to the early 16th century.

Full report lodged with Highland SMR and NMRS.

Sponsor: Dornoch Castle Hotel.

S Farrell 2005.

Architecture Notes


Dornoch Castle, by D F M reprint from "The Northern Times" Golspie 1923


Field Visit (6 July 1909)

104. Bishop's Palace, Dornoch.

Opposite the Cathedral at Dornoch stand the remains of the Bishop’s Palace. Like the Cathedral, it was destroyed in 1570, and after lying in ruins was partially restored in the beginning of the 19th century for use as a County Court House and Jail. At the NW. corner is a lofty tower having angle bartizans and crow-stepped gables, with a round stair turret containing the entrance filling the angle between it and a modernised wing.

See Cast. and Dom. Arch., ii. p. 336 (illus.); Origines, ii. pt. ii. p. 647. OS 6-inch map: Sutherland Sheet cxiii.

RCAHMS 1911, visited (AOC) 6th July 1909.

Publication Account (1982)

There were apparently two buildings in Dornoch that have been known as the Castle, but neither was an extensive fortification of earl or king. One stood in the High Street to the south of Gilchrist Square, and was referred to in a sasine of 1630 as 'the new stone foundation called the Castle' (MacKay, 1924, 28). Miss MacKay cautions that this castle on the north side of town must not be confused with the Bishop's Palace which is now called the Castle.

The Bishop's Palace was burned in a raid, led by the Earl of Caithness and chief of the MacKays in 1570. It lay in ruins until the early nineteenth century when a portion of it was adopted for use as the county court house and jail. Today the building is in use as a hotel. Portions of the structure are said to date to the last half of the fifteenth century (MacKay, 1920, 15), and the tower still remaining was the north western tower.

Information from ‘Historic Dornoch: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1982).


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