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Clan Castles of Scotland – Dornoch Castle – Clan Sutherland

Dornoch Castle, Sutherland – Clan Sutherland

dornoch castle - clan sutherland

Built around 1500 by the Bishops of Caithness, Dornoch Castle is a former possession of the powerful Clan Sutherland and an iconic building within the town of Dornoch.

The castle would sit on the site of the original Bishop’s Palace of St Gilbert, founded as accommodation for Bishops serving at the nearby Dornoch Cathedral. It would be gifted to John Gordon, 11th Earl of Sutherland, in 1557 but would then be set alight in 1570 as a feud between the McKays and Murrays spilled over into an altercation that left the town of Dornoch in ruins.

Despite leaving a scar on the entire town, the troubles of 1570 would leave only minor damages to the Castle itself, and it was then home to the Earls of Sutherland for over 150 years. It would finally see the last of its Sutherland tenants leave in 1715 as William, Lord Strathnaver, would abandon the castle due to its poor state. This would lead to Lord Strathnever spending 2,300 marks on renovations in 1720 – a very significant sum of money at the time. However, the building would soon fall into disrepair and was said to be in a derelict state by the year 1760.

As Dornoch began to reinvent itself as a potential seaside resort for 19th-century travellers, the castle’s terrible state would eventually become a nuisance to individuals in the area – who were set on improving the overall layout of the town. Sitting in the heart of Dornoch, much of the surrounding area was demolished as the castle was given a new lease of life, first as a courthouse and then as a jail. It would also serve as a school during this period as the once derelict structure now had a variety of new tenants.

Eventually passing into private hands in 1922, the Castle would be modernised as it was transformed from a jail into a hotel. Opening in 1947, it is still a tremendous place to stay for anyone visiting the northern highlands of Scotland and a unique way to say that you’ve stayed in one of Scotland’s historic castles.