Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland's great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. Dunrobin Castle is also one of Britain's oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland.
The Castle, which resembles a French chateâu with its towering conical spires, has seen the architectural influences of Sir Charles Barry, who designed London’s Houses of Parliament, and Scotland’s own Sir Robert Lorimer. The Castle was used as a naval hospital during the First World War and as a boys’ boarding school from 1965 to 1972.
Dunrobin Castle is on the east coast of the Northern Highlands overlooking the Moray Firth, just north of the villages of Golspie and Dornoch (famous for its cathedral and Royal Dornoch Golf Club).
Dunrobin Castle is open annually from 1st April to 31st October.
Dunrobin Castle and Gardens are now closed until the 1st April 2021.
Dunrobin - a magnificent castle in a magnificent setting.
Perched on a high terrace above walled gardens, Dunrobin Castle, with fairytale spires and turrets, rises above the North Sea like an illustration from a storybook.
Towering over both the Castle and Golspie is the Sutherland Monument atop Ben Bhraggie. The 1st Duke of Sutherland looks forever out over his former home from the heather-covered hilltop.
For many seasoned travellers there are few places in the world to match the mountains, moors and beaches of Sutherland. The combination of colour and texture is quite magical.
Located a mile north of Golspie in Sutherland on the east coast of the Scottish Highlands, Dunrobin Castle is about an hours drive north of the Highland capital, Inverness.
Just a 15-minute drive south is the famous market and cathedral town of Dornoch.
Other outstanding highlights in Sutherland include the Falls of Shin Visitor Centre, and Clynelish Whisky Distillery in Brora. In nearby Caithness you can enjoy the late Queen Mother’s Castle of Mey, Smoo Cave at Durness, and of course being at the very top of Britain at John o'Groats. Regular ferries run from Scrabster, near Thurso, to the Orkney Islands.
Dunrobin Castle has been called home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th century and was first mentioned as a stronghold of the family in 1401.
The Earldom of Sutherland is one of the seven ancient earldoms of Scotland and the Sutherlands were one of the most powerful families in Britain with many important matrimonial and territorial alliances.
The Earldom of Sutherland was created in 1235 and a castle appears to have stood on this site since then, possibly on the site of an early medieval fort. The name Dun Robin means Robin's Hill or Fort in Gaelic and may have come from Robert, the 6th Earl of Sutherland who died in 1427.
The early castle was actually a fortified, square keep, with walls six feet thick and a vaulted ceiling, looking out from a cliff-top position. The keep stood isolated for some 200 years until a staircase and a high house were added.
It was encased by a series of additions from the 16th century onwards. In 1785 a large extension was constructed. Remarkably this early keep still survives, much altered, within the complex of these later extensions, making Dunrobin one of the oldest inhabited houses in Scotland.
Sir Charles Barry was retained in 1845 to completely re-model the castle, to change it from a fort to a house in the Scottish Baronial style that had become popular among the aristocracy, who were inspired by Queen Victoria's new residence at Balmoral.
Barry had been the architect for the Houses of Parliament in London and was much in demand. There is very much a French influence with conical spires to the whole project, including the gardens, based on Versailles, which he laid out in the 1850s.
Much of Barry's interior was destroyed by a fire in 1915 and the interior today is mainly the work of Scottish architect, Sir Robert Lorimer, who altered the top of the main tower and clock tower at the north side of the building to the Scottish Renaissance style.
Following the death of the 5th Duke in 1963, the Earldom and Dukedom were separated. The Dukedom passed on through the male line whilst the present Countess of Sutherland inherited the Earldom. The Castle became a boys’ boarding school for a period of seven years from the late 1960s before reverting back to being a family house.
To learn more about the history of the Castle, read ‘Dunrobin and the Sutherlands’ in our Clan Connections section.
The Museum in the formal Castle grounds provides a further fascinating distraction.
Originally built as a summer house by William, Earl of Sutherland, it was extended by the 3rd Duke. The museum displays the heads of numerous animals shot by the family on safari, ethnographic items collected from around the world (particularly Africa), and an important collection of archaeological relics.
Notable among these are the collection of Pictish symbols stones and cross-slabs, These Pictish Stones form a very important collection, giving an opportunity to study the devices carved on stones 1,500 years ago. There is also a section on geology, gold panning at Kildonan, and the coal mine at Brora.
The museum retains its Victorian-early 20th century arrangement, making it one of the most remarkable private collections in the British Isles.
Opening times for the museum:
11.00am to 4.00pm daily
Dunrobin Castle is the factual and spiritual home of Clan Sutherland. Seat of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. The motto of Clan Sutherland is Sans Peur, French for Without Fear. It appears on both the Countess's Coat of Arms and the Clan Crest.
The Sutherland surname originates from 'South Land,' discovered and colonised by Norse invaders from Scandinavia and Orkney. Many of today's inhabitants of Sutherland are said to directly descend from the Celtic tribes who retreated from these Vikings, and the Chiefs of Clan Sutherland are descended from Hugh, grandson of Freskin de Moravia, a knight of Flemish origin, who was given the lands of Sutherland by William the Lion in 1197. Hugh was also the ancestor of Clan Murray. At that time, Sutherland territory extended south into Nairn and Moray, and north, covering the whole of Caithness.
Other interesting points, and viewpoints:
• Helmsdale Castle, Sutherland. Scene of the murder of the 11th Earl and Countess of Sutherland in 1567.
• Dornoch Cathedral, Sutherland. A major restoration was sponsored by the Duchess of Sutherland between 1835 and 1837.
• Ben Bhraggie, Golspie, Sutherland. A statue of George Granville
• Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford, the 1st Duke of Sutherland, who died in 1833 towers over the landscape. A liberal reformer who married to the Countess of Sutherland, who was responsible for the Sutherland Clearances.
• Carbisdale Castle, Ardgay, Wester Ross. Built by an estranged Duchess of Sutherland in the 19th century.
• Clan Gunn is another Scottish clan associated with north eastern Scotland, including Caithness and Sutherland, as well as the Orkney Islands.
Find out more by visiting www.clansutherland.org.uk