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Wyre, Cubbie Roo's Castle


Site Name Wyre, Cubbie Roo's Castle

Classification Castle

Alternative Name(s) Kolbein Hruga; Cobbie Row's Castle; Castle Of Cobbie Row; Cubbie Row's Castle

Canmore ID 2665

Site Number HY42NW 5

NGR HY 44179 26296

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2016.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Rousay And Egilsay
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY42NW 5 44179 26296

(HY 4418 2630) Cubbie Row's Castle (NR)

OS 1:10,000 map, 1977.

Dating from the Norse occupation, remains of the oldest medieval castle known to exist in Scotland. The Orkneyinga Saga tells how, about 1145, Kolbein Hruga built a fine stone castle (steinkastala) on the island of Wyre. Cobbie Row is a corrupted form of this name, and as examination has failed to yield traces of earlier structures, then the existing remains are the steinkastala (W D Simpson 1954).

The site, which occupies the summit of a considerable hillock has for its outer defence a crescentic ditch (partly destroyed) some 5 ft 9 ins wide at the bottom and now about 6 ft deep. A low mound crowns the counter- scarp, while the scarp bears the remains of a wall which appears to have originally enclosed an oval area, approximately 95 by 75 ft. At a later date, the wall was demolished in the SW sector and a rectangular extension built outwards (see RCAHMS 1946 plan fig.325). Inside the wall, a second ditch has been excavated through rock, leaving a level central platform, some 48 by 54 ft, on which the principal buildings stand. These buildings can be referred to four main periods

of construction.

Near the centre of the platform and earliest in date is a small tower, almost square, which stands to a height of about 8 ft. It measures 25 ft 7 ins by 26 ft over walls 5 ft 7 ins thick at base, and its masonry is of undressed flagstones. Dr Marwick points out that the entrance must have been in the missing first floor and what remains is a well-room and storehouse. There is insufficient evidence from which to date this tower. The masonry in no way resembles that of the enclosing wall, which may be considered original. It does not differ greatly in construction from the walling of the chapel (HY42NW 4) but it is better and more substantial. It is unsafe to assume that a personal tower was erected by a layman as early as the middle of the 12th century, especially in the total absence of any evidence. A fragment of chain mail found on the site might belong to any period from the 12th to 15th century.

First Addition: By a subsequent addition to the NE corner, the tower became L-shaped. This addition had at least one upper floor.

Second Addition: This extended from the N side of the tower, and a forestair against the E wall is evidence for an upper storey.

Third Addition: In a subsequent expansion, the W part of the platform was entirely covered by a building enveloping the W side of the tower and its second addition.

Fourth Addition: Against the E walls of both wing and addition, and end-on to the N side of the passage rose another small extension, possibly a soil-chamber.

On the S of the passage and the masonry platform extending from the tower are vestiges of still later buildings, including a hall.

RCAHMS 1946, visited 1935; W D Simpson 1950.

Cubbie Row's Castle (as per DoE [HBM] plaque): As described and planned by the RCAHMS.

Surveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS(ISS) 13 October 1972.

'Cubbie Roo's Castle'

Information from Orkney Islands Council and Tourist Board to OS 4 August 1982.

The 'Hakonar Saga' relates that this castle was beseiged in 1231. It differentiates between the 'castle' proper, represented by a nearly square mortar-built tower surviving to a height of 2.4 m, and an 'outer castle' which must refer to the substantial outer wall with its outer ditch and counterscarp bank, and to the buildings between it and the tower. Excavated by HM Office of Works in the 1920s, it is in good order. The finds from the excavation are in the NMAS.

Visited by R G Lamb 1982.

RCAHMS 1982; Orkneyinga Saga; Hakonar Saga; G Barry 1805; L Dietrichson 1906; H Marwick 1928; J S Clouston 1931; RCAHMS 1946; S Cruden 1960; W D Simpson 1961; J G Dunbar 1966; E Talbot.

Sites identified as part of a desk-based assessment followed by a broad-scale landscape survey.

HY 44175 26295 Cubbie Roo's Castle

HY 44159 26293 A sub-rectangular stony mound containing some areas of coursed masonry, although not forming any particular structure measuring approximately 15m by 6m and orientated north south. Possible spoil heap containing archaeological material.

HY 44187 26303 A sub-rectangular building platform on the slope of the mound and just east of the castle. This is orientated north-south and measures approximately 20m by 8m. This site relates to where a hen house once stood in the early 20th century, although this was thought to incorporate the remains of a much earlier structure.

Antonia Thomas 2006.


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