Scottish Castles Photo Library
- Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland

Dunrobin Castle
Photo copyright Scotavia Images.

Dunrobin Castle lies two miles north-east of Golspie, on the north-eastern shore of Dornoch Firth. The name is said to have originally meant the fort of Raffu but was renamed Dunrobin after Robert (or Robin), the 6th Earl of Sutherland.

Crest of John, Earl of SutherlandDunrobin estate had belonged to the Freskins of Duffus in the 12th century. As Norse influence receded in the north in the middle of the 13th century (the Scots had defeated the Vikings at Largs in 1263 when they attempted to invade), the family became Earls of Sutherland. The Earldom passed by marriage to a branch of the Gordons of Huntly in 1514. Then in the late 18th century, another marriage resulted in the earldom passing to an English family, the Leveson Gowers. They later became the Dukes of Sutherland.

The Sutherland name has become associated with two particular elements of Scottish history. Firstly, the raising of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in 1799, by Elizabeth Countess of Sutherland (at the request of her cousin Major-General William Wemyss of Wemyss). Then in 1819, the Strathnaver Clearances began on the Sutherland estates so that the land could be rented out more profitably to sheep farmers from the south of Scotland. Families were given 30 minutes to remove their belongings before their cottages were set on fire. There are those who argue that there was an inevitability about the Clearances, as the poor quality land could not support the ever-increasing population.

The earliest part of the castle which can be identified was a small tower house dating from around 1520 (though it is thought parts of this may go back as far as the 14th century). The walls are six feet thick. There is a round stair turret on one corner which has window pediments with the initials of John, the 13th Earl (1594-1615) and his wife Agnes. It was either the 13th or the 14th Earl who created a mansion and further extensions were made in 1785. Then in 1845, the architect Sir Charles Berry was engaged to create new facades to the north and east. He had earlier designed the Houses of Parliament in London. It is this 19th century structure that is now seen on the approach to the castle from the main road. The whitewashed walls and tall turrets on the west side facing the formal gardens below are, however, part of the 17th century mansion. The overall design has been described as "French renaissance meets Scots-Baronial." The gardens, in particular, were inspired by those at Versailles, outside Paris.

Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders CrestWith 189 rooms, Dunrobin Castle is said to be the largest house in the Scottish Highlands. At one time it had a private station on the Highland railway. The interior of the castle (parts of which are open to the public, as are the gardens) are decorated and furnished on a lavish scale.

There is also an exhibition which includes the colours of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, the famous thin red line at Balaclava. They later merged to form the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

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