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Westray, Noltland Castle

Tower House

Site Name Westray, Noltland Castle

Classification Tower House

Canmore ID 2764

Site Number HY44NW 1

NGR HY 42944 48695

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Westray
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY44NW 1 42944 48695

(HY 4293 4870) Noltland Castle (NR) (In Ruins).

OS 6" map, Orkney, 2nd ed., (1900).

The remains of a late 16th c. Z-plan castle to which a range enclosed in a courtyard was added on the south in the 17th c; in the 18th c. other structures were erected outside the east and west walls of the courtyard. Simpson reasons that the castle was founded by Gilbert Balfour of Westray and is of the opinion that the main work was probably done on it between 1560 and 1572, but was never completed.

The building is in the custody of the M of PB&W, during whose excavations an early graveyard was disclosed adjoining the west side of the castle.

The castle is said to have been fired by Covenanters in 1650.

RCAHMS 1946, visited 1930; W D Simpson 1952.

Noltland Castle, as described, planned and illustrated.

Visited by OS (RL) 29 June 1970.

HY 4292 4868 A minor excavation was undertaken in October 2000 at Noltland Castle (NMRS HY44NW 1), as part of a programme of installing underground electricity cables. No significant discoveries were made.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

D Murray and G Ewart 2001

The excavation of skeletons in 1873 and 1874 was reported in 'The Orkney Herald'.

(Undated) information in NMRS.

Architecture Notes


Miscellaneous: Dr Thomas Ross - manuscript notes.

(Undated) information in NMRS.


Geophysical Survey (1 December 2012)

HY 42944 48695 A gradiometry and resistance geophysical survey of c0.25ha was carried out on 1 December 2012 prior to the development of a new car park. The castle is a late 16th-century Z-plan tower with later additions to the S, E and W. Excavations have suggested the presence of a graveyard to the W of the castle. The main survey covered the whole of the castle compound; a second area immediately to the W of the property was also surveyed.

The data in the NE part of the survey area is dominated by responses from earlier farm buildings and boundaries, which today survive as a prominent earthwork/platform. No clearly significant anomalies were located on the lawns surrounding the castle. The survey within, and immediately S, of the walled garden to the W of the castle identified some anomalies of possible archaeological interest, including the suggestion of an oval high resistance response. However, the limited size of the survey area, together with modern use of the area as a garden/allotment, makes any interpretation tentative.

Archive: Rose Geophysical Consultants

Funder: Historic Scotland

Susan Ovenden, Rose Geophysical Consultants, 2013

(Source: DES)

Orkney Smr Note

A 2-plan artillery-defended tower-house, most likely founded

by Gilbert Balfour and dating 1560-72, but probably unfinished.

A probably C17th courtyard range adjoins. According to OS,

excavations by MoPBW disclosed a cemetery alongside the W side of

the castle. [R1-R6]

National Archives of Scotland Finds File:


October 1925 - Richardson ' The area in question [no plan to indicate which

area is being discussed] appears to be a grave-yard of some extent and

belongs to Christian times, but it is impossible to fix the exact period as

apparently no grave constructions were found. The coin found on the site

was a plack of James VI c.1600. There is not sufficient evidence to show

that the foundations discovered are those of a small Church but nevertheless

it is quite likely that they may be.'

Richardson wrote to Marwick for advice, stating:

'It has been reported that a large number of human bones and part of the

foundations of building were uncovered in the recent excavations within the

courtyard on the north side of the Castle.

So far as I can gather the skeletons were lying east and west and no trace

of any grave constructions were found. Seventy-five skulls were found all

in a good state of preservation and the teeth were excellent. The only

relic found was an Edinburgh plack of James VI but it seems unlikely that

this will help is to fix the date.

The foundations seem to have been built in lime mortar and may have possibly

been those of some Church.'

National Archives of Scotland Finds 1925 File:


Excavations dating from 16 September 1925 - 26 September 1925, a silver coin

James VI plack Atkinson (bullion) was found in excavations at the north side

of the castle or burial ground.

Information from Orkney SMR


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