Set on the shore, a mile east of Golspie the whimsical castle of Dunrobin sits. The Castle of Robin, or Dunrobin, is an ancient military fortress turned French-style Chateau that is considered the jewel of the NC500 coastline.
The History of Dunrobin
The area of Dunrobin goes way back to Freskin de Moravia, a Norman who helped both David I and William the Lion regain control of the Nothern Highlands. Earl Robin was granted the title, and allowed to fortify the area. Earl Robin was the founder of this castle in 1275, which looked very different than the Dunrobin Castle we know today. Although it has transformed from that time, the castle still holds his name Dun in Gaelic meaning Fort, and Robin, being his name.
Fun Fact: The 5th Earl ended up marrying Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert the Bruce. The Wolf of Badenoch lived here as well. A wildly brutal man who is known for terrorizing many of the Highland lands.
Dunrobin Castle History and Building the Chateau
The oldest part of this castle comes from the 1320’s, a stone keep was added in 1401 to help fortifications of the castle. Dunrobin was built to be a holdfast and military fortress, which can be seen by the iron yett at the entrance to the castle.
During the Jacobite Rising, the Earl of Cromartie was George McKenzie, a staunch Jacobite. It was April 1746 when the Earl heard rumors that Prince Charlie and many Clan members had been successful at the Battle of Culloden. Fueled by the passion of a Scottish King being on the Throne of England, he gathered his men and attacked Dunrobin. The castle fell to him and he claimed it in the name of the Stewart King. A short time after this the true news of the loss at Culloden reached the Earl. The Duke of Sutherland surrounded the castle, with a brutal battle the Earl was captured and Dunrobin Castle was back in the hands of the English. The apartment where the Earl was hiding is still called the Cromartie Room (this room is now used as the children’s playroom).
It was a short 40 years later in 1785 when Elizabeth Gordon, Countess of Sutherland began to clean and upgrade the estate, and the surrounding areas.
The 2nd Duke of Sutherland inherited the castle in 1841, who then had 8 children. This gave way to the massive expansion of the castle. Most of the French Chateau styling came from 1845 by Charles Barry, who was a master of the Gothic Revival style. Charles Barry’s success at this castle is what influenced the men who built the tower of London to be what it is today. When Dunrobin castle was finished it was three times larger than it had been 6 years earlier.
The Castle was used as a Naval Hospital during World War I, and a boarding school from 1965 to 1972. It overlooks the beautiful Moray of Firth with a path leading directly to its shores.
It is the most Northerly of Scotland’s castles and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms and has been continuously inhabited since the 1300’s. Home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. Visitors are allowed to take a self-guided tour through some of the 20 rooms in one of the most extravagant residences in the Northern Highlands.
Inside Dunrobin Castle
The tour starts in the inviting dining area, where a table set for 10 with the family silver adorns the table. The table is set exactly as it would have been in 1850.
The walls are not filled with gold, gifts, and do not bestow the sense of trying to intimidate their guests like you would see in most castles. Rather, the walls are lined with wood paneling that provides a sense of warmth that would make anyone want to linger after dinner chatting and solving the world’s problems.
Next, you will head into the old boy’s mess hall now turned into the Drawing Room. I was astounded at the intricate details of the ceiling. Imagining the boys sitting in this room, trying to get their ‘wiggles’ out of their bodies & drawing the patterns of the ceiling with their fingers. It would be hard for me as a child to pay attention to the schoolmaster in this room.
You will be especially impressed upon by the French style furniture, the oldest piece being the Louis the XVI table with a Florentine Dura top. I can just imagine ladies in their frilly dresses playing a round of cards, while the men look out at the ships passing by the castle on the Moray of Firth discussing politics.
The Significance of Dunrobin Castle Library
In my opinion, the crown jewel of the castle is the Library. This library has over 10,000 books, with books ranging from politics to art to world history. Some of these books date clear back to the 17th century. There are many of the books that include original Scottish law, which is very rare.
After The Battle of Culloden, many of these books were burned, the Gaelic language was banned & Scottish law was changed completely. To have this knowledge so carefully preserved and protected within the walls of this castle makes Dunrobin all the more important piece of Scottish History.
Duchess Eliean, the 1st wife of the 6th Duke of Sutherland is lovingly placed over the fireplace. Dressed in very modern clothing for that time period, she is responsible for how the castle, as you see it today, is designed. She was also a voluntary nurse and helped turn Dunrobin into a Naval hospital. Working alongside her Mother-in-law, she aided soldiers during World War I.
The Green and Gold Bedroom:
The French interior decorating really comes through in this room. The bed that dominates the room, is a four-post bed with delicate flowers climbing the posts and topped with doves. Commissioned specifically for Queen Victoria’s visit from September 6th-11th 1872, after which the bed was used by Duchess Eileen.
This is not an ordinary bedroom, it is a suite, with a dressing room and a bathroom within a short distance of this bedroom. This is an older part of the castle, built around 1784. As you pass through this room, you can still glimpse what the original bathroom would have looked like, a skylight and a claws foot tub.
Dunrobin will always be a Family Home:
The staff and the current Countess and Duke work with the general manager, Scott Morrison, to ensure that the castle will always appear as a family home. In any of the rooms that you walk in, you can imagine them playing board games in the dining room, having tea in the old mess hall, or children rocking on the wooden horse in the playroom.
No matter what facelift, transformation or event Dunrobin is used for, both the family and the staff ensure that it is filled with love, warmth and a welcoming hand to all. Even at the entrance, you feel this warmth both figuratively and literally. The ticket booth is directly across from a roaring fireplace with sweet townsfolk gathering the payments and tickets to see the castle. They warmly greet each visitor and seem truly interested in your own story. It is almost as if they take these stories, and lovingly place them into the castle itself. So that those who enter their doors will know that all are welcome to Dunrobin. This falls in line perfectly with the Clan Sutherland Motto, Sans Peur, which is French for ‘Without Fear’.
For a full tour of the castle, be sure to check out the interview with Scott Morrision, General manager, and his tour of Dunrobin Castle giving all the details, tidbits and history of Dunrobin. (Coming soon to Culture Trekking on YouTube).
Falconry at Dunrobin Castle:
Originally Falconry was introduced in England in 860 AD, and from there spread like wildfire throughout both England and Scotland. Falconry at Dunrobin has an exceptional display of the birds of prey.
The keeper, Andy, raises the birds from the times they are chicks, develops a relationship with them with food, aids them during hunting, cares for them if they sustain injuries, and treats them like they were a member of the family.
Many people get angry that the birds are kept tethered at times, but this is just not true, every morning the birds are let loose to fly, hunt and leave if they wish. They always return to Andy, and he secures them for the night in a warm and safe environment.
There are plenty of fields nearby full of mice, chickens, and jackrabbits that the birds regularly bring home to him to share. If you do nothing else, make sure you go to the Falconry show. It is a perfect opportunity to teach children about how animals who are treated well, will treat you well. Stay tuned for a portion of the Falconry show I was privileged to film….
The Tea Room and the Gift Shop
At the conclusion of the journey through this stunning castle, you will find an excellent tea room and gift shop. Wind your way through the gardens and sip on your tea and crumpets for a truly Scottish experience. The cost to visit Dunrobin is
My Final Opinion on Dunrobin Castle and the Staff:
If you want to feel as if you have been adopted into an ancient Scottish Clan, while feeling like you are visiting France at the same time, then head to Dunrobin. It is not just the castle staff that create a wonderfully friendly environment, but each room is crafted with a sincere message of the importance of family in mind.
Even when you stay in nearby Airbnb’s, there is a general expression of love for Dunrobin, it’s Countess and Earl and all they have done to help the community. If I could pick one place in my lifetime I have visited and would love to continue to be a part of, this town would be what I would pick. It is calming, friendly, kind, and has a feeling of community that is hard to find in a world that is becoming more and more rough around the edges.
How to visit:
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Address: Dunrobin Castle Golspie, Sutherland Scotland, KW10 6SF
See The Best Transport Options to Dunrobin – for more information on how to get here without a car.
Dunrobin is open the 1st of April to 31st October most years, with hours of operation in early summer and late fall being 10:30am to 430pm. In the mid-summer months to early fall, opening times are from 10am to 5pm.
Please note, as with most museums and castles, the last entry is typically 1 hour before closing time.
The Museum is open from 11.00 until 16.00 daily
Falconry displays are at 11.30am and 2.00pm daily from 1st April to the 30th September
(include castle, museum, and falconry display)
Adults £11.50 OAP’s £9.50
Children £7.00 Student £9.50
Family £34.00 (2 Adults + up to 3 Children)
Groups (minimum of 10 people)
Group Adults £9.00 Group Concessions £8.00
Group Child £6.00
As always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
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