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The most northerly castle on the Scottish mainland, Scotland-Mey-Castle-02.jpg (7464 bytes)the Castle of Mey is set in a glorious location overlooking the Pentland Firth.Even on a grey, misty day the light is softly luminous and the stone of the castle glows pink against endless sky.

Moira McCrossan and Hugh Taylor enjoyed a guided tour of the only property Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother owned.

This was the grand residence of earls and knights as well as The Queen Mum but step inside and you find, not an intimidating castle but a warm and welcoming home. When the Queen Mother first saw it in 1952, she was still in mourning for her husband, King George VI. The castle was in a poor state and the only sign of recent human habitation was a pair of shoes on the step, covered in mould. She spent the next three years restoring and renovating it and it became a much loved home, where she spent every August and October until she died.

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Dornoch is an excellent touring base for self-drive motorists and the Castle of Mey, John O' Groats and Dunnet Head can be visited in a day trip from there.

For family holidays Dornoch offers miles of clean, golden Blue Flag beach. There are two golf courses, including the Royal Dornoch Golf Club of world championship status. See web  for general information and accommodation details.
More information: VisitScotland
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The Castle was built in the 16th century by the 4th Earl of Caithness for his son. They were evidently a blood thirsty brood, since the Earl’s first two sons were murdered in internecine strife. Despite this inauspicious start, the castle remained in the Sinclair family until 1889 and in 1996 the 20th Earl of Caithness was appointed one of the first trustees of the Castle of Mey Trust. The trust was endowed by the Queen Mother to safeguard the future of the castle and in opening to the public they have preserved the memory of the Queen Mother herself.

Her personality shines through in every room. An ornate and idiosyncratic jardinière full of flowers is the centrepiece of the entrance hall, which is hung with paintings of the Caithness family and the Queen Mother’s Standard. But amid the grandeur, the little table at the door is covered with the shells she liked to collect from the beach and her ubiquitous clocks seem to defy all attempts to make them chime together.

The drawing room is inhabited by a tribe of gonks, brought by young visitors and left, peeping out of unusual places, by royal order. Much of the antique furniture was bought locally, as were the paintings. The visitors’ book is on display with signatures and pictures of royal visitors over the years. This is a comfortable room, with chair cushions dented by much sitting, favourite music lying around and a shell based lamp, a 100th birthday present from the Sunday School, in pride of place. This is typical of the castle; a sense of humour and valuing gifts and givers accounts for many unusual items, like the shell decorated clock, made by the housekeeper’s son, Danny Hughes, or the furry stag’s head mounted on the wall in the library.

The grandest room in the castle is the dining room, with magnificent mahogany table, fresh flowers and well worn leather chairs bearing the ER cypher. At one end hangs the brightly coloured tapestry of the Queen Mother’s coat of arms while at the other end a beautiful bronze fire-back depicts the Royal Yacht Britannia amid local birds and thistles. There is no mistaking that this is the dining room of a queen, but it was also a place for fun and games. One of her favourite paintings, a delicate watercolour by John Gubbins, depicts the castle surrounded by a host of tiny details, which she delighted in spotting in after dinner games of I-spy. The worn carpet shortened and stitched in the middle might look a bit shabby but it was given to the Queen Mother by her mother in law, Queen Mary so there could be no question of replacing it.


The domestic details of houses are always fascinating; and nowhere is the fifties feel of the castle so evident. In the butler’s pantry and the kitchen, the fridges with their chipped enamel are clearly 1950s but they are in perfect working order so why would anyone change them? The cooker and sinks have been upgraded but the cupboards are the originals as designed and installed in the fifties. The bedrooms too are of that era. The Queen Mother’s bedroom is quite small and in her day, had no central heating. Pretty bedcovers, mahogany chests, simple painted wardrobes and kidney shaped frilled dressing tables adorn the bedrooms, which, of course, are not en suite. The plain bathrooms could have been found in any modest middle class house of the period.

That simplicity is a large part of the appeal of the Castle of Mey. Its location is breathtaking, the gardens are lovely and its history fascinating but in shells, gonks and I-Spy games, in worn carpets and chipped but still working 1950s fridge, we glimpse a woman with a quirky sense of humour, canny about housekeeping and caring about the people around her.

Check out these other destinations in Scotland

EDINBURGH - Look ahead for the big dates

GLASGOW - See Glasgow in true style

HEBRIDES - Hopscotch to the Western Isles

SCOTLAND - Explore the wild Highlands

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Scotland the Best by Peter Irvine - Even the local citizens of Edinburgh and Glasgow have a copy in the car when they head north.

Scotland's Highlands and Islands (Footprint Travel Guides) - very helpful on all aspects of travelling in the north.

The Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands and Islands  by Rob Humphreys and Donald Reid - a detailed guide to the wilder regions, essential for navigating the Islands and the more remote Highland areas. 

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