CASTLE OF OLD WICK
The Castle of Old Wick was built on a finger of rock and benefited from formidable natural defences. It was constructed in the twelfth century when the King of Norway held sway over Caithness and Sutherland. It was one of his magnates - Harald Maddadson, Earl of Orkney - who built the castle. It later passed to Sir Reginald le Cheyne who garrisoned it for Edward I.
The Castle of Old Wick was built in the twelfth century. At this time Caithness and Sutherland, as well as many of the islands along Scotland's northern and western coasts, were under the control of the King of Norway. Accordingly Wick Castle was probably founded by one of his magnates and most authors attribute it to Harald Maddadson, Earl of Orkney and Caithness. Harald was half Scottish - his father was Matad, Earl of Atholl - and it is presumed he sought a family seat on the mainland. If this supposition is correct, the castle was built circa-1160.
The castle was built upon a finger of rock that was protected on three sides by tall cliffs. The fortification occupied the entire footprint of the summit which was enclosed by a barmkin (curtain wall). The thin neck of land connecting the site to the mainland was defended by a gatehouse, ditch and drawbridge. The centrepiece of the castle was the Tower House - originally a four storey structure accessed from the first floor on the seaward side. Much of this once grand structure has now been lost but the configuration consisted of storage on the ground level, the hall on the first floor and accommodation above. A lack of a stone staircase suggests access to the upper levels was accessed via a timber ladder. Various other buildings, which would have included all the ancillary buildings associated with such a settlement, were built along the length of the promontory. Below the cliffs on the north side is a sea inlet and beach which would have been ideal for sheltering small ships in use during the medieval period.
Little is known about the castle during the thirteenth century but, by the time the Wars of Independence started in 1296, it was one of numerous castles owned by Sir Reginald le Cheyne, Lord of Duffus. He supported John Balliol and Edward I during the conflict - perhaps as a result of the greater maritime strength of the English side - but there is no evidence any action took place at the castle. Wick then passed to his son, also called Reginald, and after his death in 1345 it passed through his daughter Mary to Nicholas, Earl of Sutherland.
In the mid-fifteenth century Old Wick Castle passed through marriage to William Oliphant of Berriedale. It then passed to his son, Andrew Oliphant, and then his son, Laurence. During their ownership tensions increased with the Earls of Caithness and in 1569 the castle was besieged for eight days ultimately surrendering due to a lack of fresh water. The dispute came to an end in November 1604 when it was sold to George Sinclair, Earl of Caithness but, as it was situated just a few miles from his primary seat at Girnigoe, Old Wick went into disuse. It ceased being used as a residence entirely in the eighteenth century.
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The Castle of Old Wick comprises of the ruins of a Norse fortification. The remains include a stone tower that is one of the oldest in Scotland.
Castle of Old Wick. The castle was built upon a finger of rock that was protected on three sides by tall cliffs. Below a sea inlet provided an area for beaching small ships. The castle was used as a visual navigation marker by the seamen who worked the turbulent North Sea. They called it the "Old Man of Wick".
Promontory. The summit of the promontory was originally enclosed by a curtain wall and filled with ancillary buildings.
Sea Inlet. Either side of the castle were sea inlets with small beaches which were ideal for the landing cargo and people from small ships.
Ditch. The thin neck of land connecting the site to the mainland was originally defended by a gatehouse, ditch and drawbridge. These were all overlooked by the Tower House. Today only the ditch and ruined tower survive.
Tower House. This structure was originally four storeys tall and would have been the centrepiece of the castle. There is no stone staircase evident suggesting access to the upper floors was via wooden ladders.
The castle is found just to the south of Wick. It is accessed via March Road, off the A99 and is not sign-posted. If coming from the south and you pass the retail park, you have gone too far and missed the turning. There is an area for car parking near the castle.
Castle of Old Wick
March Road, KW1 5TY