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Castle of Mey – Queen Mother’s Favorite

It was love at first sight. The late Queen Mother of England saw the Castle of Mey for the first time in 1952 while on a visit to Scotland. She was mourning the recent death of her husband, King George VI and the castle, known as Barrogill Castle at that time, immediately charmed her. On hearing it was to be abandoned, she decided to purchase it.

The Castle of Mey in Canisbay parish, on the north coast of Caithness in the Scottish Highlands is the northernmost castle on the British mainland. It is about 15 miles east of Thurso and 6 miles west of John O’Groats and is a Z plan castle constructed between 1566 and 1572. Built by George, 4th Earl of Caithness, it became the seat of the Sinclair family and the home of Earls of Caithness for a hundred years. Its original name, Castle of Mey, was changed to Barrogill Castle. The castle changed hands on numerous occasions and was finally with Captain F B Imbert-Terry from 1929 till he sold it to the Late Queen Mother.

She made it her mission to restore the castle and its gardens and also restored its original name, Castle of Mey. The gardens were about thirty acres which was extended when she acquired the neighboring house, Seaview with its adjoining property in 1956 and Longoe Farm in 1958. Seaview is used for extra guests of the castle and also rented out to visitors. Castle of Mey was her favorite summer home for the rest of her life.

A twelve foot high wall known as the Great Wall of Mey protected the garden from the harsh winds and saline spray off the Pentland Firth. Her Majesty even succeeded in getting Albertine, her favorite old rose to bloom here. The Shell Garden is a riot of colors pansies, dahlias and marigolds, as well as some beautiful creepers, rose shrubs and Scotland’s thistle. The castle also grows an abundance of fruit and vegetables that can resist the rigors of the coast.

On three days of the year the garden is open to the public in aid the Scotland’s Gardens Scheme, a tradition started by Her Majesty.