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The History of Keiss Castle

Keiss Castle is a stunning partially ruined Castle in Scotland. It is protected as a scheduled monument and was once a booming tourist attraction. It stands on rugged cliffs overlooking the picturesque Sinclair’s Bay.

The history of Keiss Castle

Situated less than one mile north of the Keiss village centre in Caithness, Highland, Scotland, Keiss Castle is a lovely, ruined castle. While it is in dramatic ruin, it still catches the eye, even from afar. Constructed as a Z-plan tower house, it was once a grand and strong castle.

Although it holds a limited history, it is still an intriguing castle with a picturesque, scenic view of the surrounding water.

The early history

It is said that the original Keiss Castle was likely built on the site of an earlier fort. This was sometime during the late 16th or early 17th century by George Sinclair, 5th Earl of Caithness. It is known that the castle was in existence in 1623 when James I commissioned a man by the name of Sir Robert Gordon to enter Caithness with an armed force.

Old and New Keiss Castle side by side
Old and New Keiss Castle side by side. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Keiss Castle in ruins

In 1698, the 7th Earl died in the castle. By 1700, the castle was in a ruinous state and by 1726 it was described as being in repair with a report saying, ‘at the side of it a convenient house lately built.’ The estate was then purchased in the early 18th century by Sir William Sinclair, 2nd Baronet of Dunbeath.

In 1752, Keiss Castle became his family seat.

The current castle

The new Keiss Castle nearby was built in 1755. However, in 1765, it had to be sold due to significant financial difficulties. It was sold to the Sinclairs of nearby Ulbster. In 1860, on the instructions of Col. K. Macleay, the house was altered to its current form by David Bryce.

During this time, it was extended into a beautiful Scottish baronial style. After this, in 1866, the owner listed Kleiss Castle for sale, and it was sold to the Duke of Portland.

The present day

Today, the castle occupies the cliffs in a ruined and dramatic state, Due to the decaying nature and the cliff, you cannot visit the ruins. They can be seen from afar, though, and it is well worth the visit. Coupled with the gorgeous backdrop, this castle makes for a spectacular sight.

You may enjoy reading about other Scottish castles such as Fyvie Castle.

The new Keiss Castle with sheep outside
The new castle. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Keiss Castle Timeline

  • Late 16th or early 17th century- The original castle is built by George Sinclair, 5th Earl of Caithness
  • 1698- The 7th Earl dies in the castle
  • 1700- The castle is in a ruinous state
  • 1726- Keiss Castle is described as being in repair with a report saying, ‘at the side of it a convenient house lately built.’
  • Early 18th century- The estate is purchased by Sir William Sinclair, 2nd Baronet of Dunbeath.
  • 1752- Keiss Castle becomes the family seat of the Sinclair family
  • 1755- The new Keiss Castle is built
  • 1765- The new castle has to be sold due to significant financial difficulties and is sold to the Sinclairs of nearby Ulbster
  • 1860- On the instructions of Col. K. Macleay, the house is altered to its current form by David Bryce
  • 1866- The castle is sold to the Duke of Portland

Keiss Castle facts

  • The current castle was built in an interesting Z-plan
  • Keiss Castle had a vaulted basement
  • The beach and grounds the castle is situated on were heavily fortified during World War II
  • The castle and beaches below were used to defend Caithness during World War II
  • Part of the old Keiss Castle collapsed when the cliff beneath it was eroded and crumbled into the North Sea
Old Keiss Castle 2
The old castle. Source: Geograph.

Tourism

Old Keiss Castle is in significant decay now. That along with the precarious proximity to the cliff edge makes it impossible to visit the ruins. However, you can view the beautiful, ruinous castle from afar. It makes for a beautiful and dramatic view.

Even though you can’t walk into or near the castle, it is still a sight to behold and is very much worth the visit. When visiting, there is plenty of parking available on the High Street or at Keiss Harbour. A footpath will then guide you along the coast. The footpath is uneven and muddy, so exercise caution.

Nearby, you can visit the new Keiss Castle, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, Duncansby Head, and Castle of Old Wick.

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