Muness Castle
Muness Castle lies in the south east corner of Unst
Unst is one of the North Isles of the Shetland Islands, Scotland. It is the northernmost of the inhabited British Isles and is the third largest island in Shetland after the Mainland and Yell. It has an area of .Unst is largely grassland, with coastal cliffs...

, Shetland; Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

's most northerly inhabited island, not far from the rocky headland of Mu Ness. It is the most northerly fortalice in Britain.

The castle today

The remains of the castle consist of just over two storeys of a three-storey Z-plan
Z-plan castle
Z Plan is a form of castle design common in England and Scotland. The Z-plan castle has a strong central rectangular tower with smaller towers attached at diagonally opposite corners....

 arrangement, though the corner towers are circular rather than square, as is more usual with such castles. On the remaining two corners of the castle are outcrops of decorative corbelling that would originally have supported turrets at the second floor level.

In its heyday Muness Castle would have had a walled courtyard on its south west side, complete with ranges of outhouses probably comprising additional accommodation, a bakehouse, brewery, stables and perhaps a chapel. These have long since gone, though their stone is probably still on view in the nearby buildings.

A single well protected door in the south west wall of the castle gives access to the interior. The ground floor comprises a large kitchen and a series of cellars, one of which is now used to display decorative stones and loopholes from the castle.

The first floor comprises the main hall of Muness Castle, the centre of social and business life. At either end are chambers. The principal chamber is at the far end from the main stairs. And from here the remains of a private spiral staircase
Spiral staircase
Spiral staircase may refer to:* A type of stairway characterized by its spiral shape* The Spiral Staircase , a 1946 American psychological thriller film* The Spiral Staircase , a 1975 British film, a remake of the 1946 film...

 can be seen winding up towards the no longer present second floor.

Castle history

There are similarities between Muness Castle and Scalloway Castle
Scalloway Castle
Scalloway Castle was built from 1599 by Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney to tighten his grip on Shetland, Scotland. Its site in Shetland's then capital, Scalloway, was surrounded by the sea on three sides.-History:...

 on the Mainland
Mainland is a name given to a large landmass in a region , or to the largest of a group of islands in an archipelago. Sometimes its residents are called "Mainlanders"...

, and with the Earl's Palace
Earl's Palace, Kirkwall
The ruins of the Earl's Palace, Kirkwall lie near St Magnus Cathedral in the centre of Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland. Built by Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney. It was begun in 1607 and built largely by forced labour...

 in Kirkwall
Kirkwall is the biggest town and capital of Orkney, off the coast of northern mainland Scotland. The town is first mentioned in Orkneyinga saga in the year 1046 when it is recorded as the residence of Rögnvald Brusason the Earl of Orkney, who was killed by his uncle Thorfinn the Mighty...

 on Orkney. All were built around the same time, and by the same family. Muness Castle was built by Laurence Bruce
Laurence Bruce
Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie was the son of John Bruce of Cultmalindie and Eupheme Elphinstone. Easter Cultmalindie is a small hamlet or "fermtoun" in Tibbermore parish, Perthshire, Scotland....

, the half brother of Robert Stewart
Robert Stewart
Robert Stewart may refer to:* Robert II of Scotland , King of Scots* Robert III of Scotland , King of Scots, son of the above* Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany , Scottish royal, regent to three Scottish monarchs...

, the Earl of Orkney
Earl of Orkney
The Earl of Orkney was originally a Norse jarl ruling Orkney, Shetland and parts of Caithness and Sutherland. The Earls were periodically subject to the kings of Norway for the Northern Isles, and later also to the kings of Alba for those parts of their territory in mainland Scotland . The Earl's...


Laurence Bruce was appointed Sheriff of Shetland and set to work with a corrupt and cruel enthusiasm that was characteristic of the family. When Robert Stewart was succeeded by his son, Earl Patrick, Laurence Bruce felt threatened by the change. He therefore started building Muness Castle in 1598, even before Patrick Stewart set to work on Scalloway Castle
Scalloway Castle
Scalloway Castle was built from 1599 by Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney to tighten his grip on Shetland, Scotland. Its site in Shetland's then capital, Scalloway, was surrounded by the sea on three sides.-History:...

. Both castles were designed by Andrew Crawford.

Bruce had good reason to feel concerned for his safety. In 1608 Earl Patrick arrived in Unst with 36 men and artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

, intent on capturing or destroying the castle. They might well have succeeded had they not suddenly withdrawn for reasons that have never been explained, but it was only a temporary reprieve. In 1627 French raiders attacked and burned Muness Castle. It seems to have been repaired, but was no longer in use by end of the 17th century.

In 1713 the castle was rented to the Dutch East India Company
Dutch East India Company
The Dutch East India Company was a chartered company established in 1602, when the States-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia...

 to house the salvaged cargo from the Rhynenburgh, which was wrecked nearby. The Bruce family sold Muness Castle in 1718, and by 1750 its new owners had also abandoned it. The castle was roofless by 1774.

One may read over the door of the ruins:
"List ye to knaw yis building quha began,
Laurence the Bruce he was that worthy man,
Quha ernestly his airis and ofspring prayis
To help and not to hurt this vork alwayis.
The zeir of God 1598."

The building is in the care of Historic Scotland
Historic Scotland
Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government, responsible for historic monuments in Scotland.-Role:As its website states:...

(no entrance charge).

External links

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