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Thurso, Burnside, Scrabster Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Thurso, Burnside, Scrabster Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Bishop's Castle; Bishop's Palace

Canmore ID 8449

Site Number ND16NW 3

NGR ND 1068 6916

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Thurso
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Caithness
  • Former County Caithness

Archaeology Notes

ND16NW 3 1068 6915.

(ND 1066 6916) Scrabster Castle (NR) (remains of)

OS 6" map, (1971)

'A piece of tower at the E end, having a dungeon below it, which is supposed to have extended beneath the courtyard, and a few pieces of the wall are quite visible, but the shape of the edifice cannot be accurately traced. There was a drawbridge of the land side of the castle, but all trace of it has long since vanished.'

Name Book 1872.

Gilbert, Bishop of Scotland, who died about 1244, built the Castle of Burnside at Scrabster which was inhabited by the bishops until Bishop Robert Stewart (still alive in 1549).

J B Craven 1908.

Bishop's Castle or Scrabster Castle, Thurso: On a low promontory rock rising from the shore about half a mile NW of Thurso, are the fragmentary ruins of a castle of the Bishops of Caithness. The ruins of a wall at the edge of the rock and the foundations of one or two buildings which have surrounded the courtyard are all that remains. A small triangular-headed window enriched with dog-tooth ornament, taken from the ruins, is built into an outbuilding at Scrabster House [farmhouse at Mains of Thurso].

The earliest record of the castle seems to be in 1328 in an account claimed for keeping the castle of Scrabster during the vacancy of the see. Other mentions are in 1455 for keeping the castle of Scrabstoun, in 1478, and in 1544, when the Earl of Caithness seized it, and in 1557, when John, Earl of Sutherland, was appointed constable. In 1726 it was described as being wholly in ruins.

Orig Paroch Scot 1855; J B Craven 1886; W Macfarlane 1906-8; RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910.

Large mutilated banks of earth and stones some 3.0 m high are all that remains of the curtain wall of the castle. Four short lengths of walling, barely discernible in the grass, and three sides of a small chamber perched precariously on the cliff edge near a wartime gun- emplacement, were the only evidence of buildings to be seen. The area is considerably dilapidated, and the promontory on which the remains stand is being greatly reduced by sea erosion.

Revised at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (W D J) 17 April 1962.

Examination in 1970 by E Talbot on behalf of the inspectorate of ancient monuments produced 12th to 13th century pottery from the cobbled courtyard, ass well as identifying minor domestic structures in the heavily disturbed interior of the Castle. This suggested that it might be the 'borg' mentioned about 1196 (in the Orkneyinga Saga) and further excavation in 1973 suggested that it might overlie a prehistoric structure, possibly a broch. A tower, illustrated about 1870, at the head of the promontory (Smythe 1870), is no longer in evidence and may have been removed when a World War II pill-box was built (see ND16NW 183), or it may have been undermined by the sea.

Smythe 1870; P R Ritchie 1970; E Talbot 1973.

The fragmentary remains of Scrabster Castle are generally as described by the RCAHMS (1911).The curtain wall is partly destroyed by erosion and partly obscured by turf banks, but here and there short stretches of the outer face are exposed. On the W side the inner wall-face of a building about 5.0 m square with a mural chamber is exposed, and there appears to have been a further building of indeterminate size, now overlaid by a pill-box, at the extreme N end of the promontory.

Visited by OS (N K B) 10 March 1982.

Scheduled as 'Scrabster Castle... the remains of Scrabster Castle, alternatively known as Bishops's Castle or Bishop's Palace... visible today as an earthwork and upstanding ruin.'

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 19 December 2002.


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