On our drive from Land’s End to John O’Groats last year, one of our final stops was Castle of Mey in Caithness (in fact it’s what we did after going to John O’Groats). Castle of Mey was the Queen Mother’s private Scottish castle, which she bought after the death of her husband King George VI.
The castle is not a grand home, it’s compact but classy and it’s a very intimate place to visit. It’s a very neat experience to enter her personal space. Many artifacts from her life are present, including her clothes. The place reflects her personality. Loved that there are tattered rugs and curtains everywhere because she’d rather not replace them and keep using the old stuff.
Here are 10 interesting facts we learned on our stop there:
- Queen Mother visited twice a year, for 4 weeks in August and for 2 weeks in October, like clockwork.
- Princess Margaret called it ‘Mummy’s drafty castle.’
- It’s not known how much she paid for it – some say it was £1, some say the owners just gave it to her, others say she paid £100. The owners were going to abandon it anyway.
- The Queen Mother used her own money to renovate the castle and bring it up to modern standards.
- Local residents were quite happy she bought the castle as it meant they finally got running water and reliable electricity. It was three 3 years before the castle was habitable.
- The house is now owned by a trust, in the ’90s the QM was concerned about its future after she died so wanted to ensure it was kept safe and opened to visitors. The castle is still used by the Royal Family occasionally and open to the ‘right sort of guest’ (i.e. people who have a staff in their employ).
- It was originally called Castle of Mey when it was built, but when the Queen Mother found it, it was called Barrogill Castle. She restored its traditional name.
- HMY Britannia visited the castle several times (but the Royal Family stayed on the Yacht as there wasn’t room in the castle to accommodate them all).
- The library was the Queen Mother’s private sitting room in later life and she was known to watch her favorite British comedies Fawlty Towers and Dad’s Army.
- It’s the northernmost Castle on the British mainland and not far from Dunnet Head, the northernmost point of Great Britain (not actually John O’Groats it turns out).
We recommend trying to visit on a warm day… the wind off the North Sea is brutal. The Walled Garden will be a nice respite from the wind. You cannot take pictures inside, which is a shame. They also work on a timed tour system and they will not let you into the house before your allowed time, no matter the weather. The visitor’s center has a nice gift shop with mementoes and excellent cafe providing light lunches and tea (plus the ever-important loos). I can report that the ham and cheese toasties are delicious. You can now also stay on the castle grounds in a new bed & breakfast. We enjoyed our visit and would very much like to go again.