How castles were built and financed in medieval times and how it’s done today

How castles were built and financed in medieval times and how it’s done today

One question we get a lot from our readers and during our tours is, “how were these great castles built and financed?” Not only are people curious about how it was done in medieval times. Some have also discovered that it can be done today, and follow up with that, wanting to know more. 

We hope you’ll be as intrigued as they are when they get to know the answers.

Castles in medieval times


During medieval times, kings would order castles to be built, usually for the protection of their kingdom from possible revolts and outside dangers. They would commission a great swath of different craftsmen, from carpenters and blacksmiths to quarrymen and stonemasons.


Needless to say, the costs of the great castles and fortresses were immense. In modern currencies, they could be anywhere between $5,000,000 and $125,000,000, based on materials, size, location, logistics, and other such factors. 

Castles today


These days, castles are not being constructed as much as they were in the past. There is no longer any need for great fortresses to fend off enemies (despite how tempted one might be to ward off their neighbor). It is possible, though, to buy castles – for a hefty sum, of course. So if you’ve got the means, how cool wouldn’t it be to live like a lord or a lady? 

More often than building castles, people buy existing ones so that they may refurbish them and make them habitable. They may be meant for homes, but hotel businesses are also quite eager to get their hands on them, as they are quite exclusive and appealing. Many museums also choose to showcase their exhibitions in castles. 


When it comes to financing a castle in modern times, we reached out to several mortgage experts. We got many interesting answers, and an especially informative account from Ingvild Aagre, editor in one of Norway’s more innovative services when it comes to comparing loans.

Ingvild has specialized knowledge of loans and personal finances, and has also visited the Caernarfon castle several times, which makes her view on the matter particularly interesting. Here is what she wrote in her email: 

“The idea of living like a wealthy aristocrat in a great castle is no longer as impossible as it once was. For some people, the dream is quite achievable, although it does take quite the capital. To buy a castle today, one would need to have a very strong income, and might have to consider several financing options. 

For the castle itself, a mortgage would be a natural choice. In the ongoing process, though, a hefty amount of refurbishing is usually needed, which might make a personal loan more fitting. 

Financing a castle is not that different from financing a home, and the basics are the same. So for those of your readers who would actually be interested in getting their own castle, it may prove to be extra useful, not just as a reference, but as a guide…” [The email continues a bit further, but we got the most important points across]

Thanks to Ingvild for that thorough and explanatory answer! If you want to learn more from her about financing, perhaps not a castle, but a house and its inventory, you should check out her articles within the category forbrukslån fra Lån for deg. It contains some of the most up-to-date principles of personal loans, which are usually needed when furnishing a home. Their website is only in Norwegian at the moment, however we see that about 30% of our website visitors are from Norway, so hopefully it’s a page with some value to you. 

Now you know a little bit more about how castles were built and financed in medieval times, as well as how it’s done today. 

PS. We are soon opening up the tours again! Contact your local ticket office or book via our website (subject to change depending on lockdowns, etc).

How moving was done in the old days

How moving was done in the old days

When moving houses in modern days, we usually resort to hiring a moving company to help us out, as we might be bringing a lot of stuff with us. 


These moving companies usually come to pick up our furniture and other belongings with a big truck, before they drive to our new home and assist us in carrying all the stuff inside. 


It’s very useful to have motorized vehicles to bring our many hundred kilos of possessions to a new home that might be thousands of kilometers away. It was not always this easy for people to move, however. A flyttebyrå that could come to your house and handle the entire moving process for you was nonexistent. For a very long time, you would have had to do it all on your own. 


So how did people move in the near and distant past, and what challenges might they have faced?

Walking with animals

If we go back to around 10,000 BC, right before the agricultural revolution, the standard way of living was actually to move all the time. Historians refer to people who lived back then as hunters and gatherers, because they would hunt the animals they could find and gather the edible foods they could in a certain area. They lived in small huts that they erected from the available materials, and when they didn´t have any more food to hunt or gather, they would move to a new place. Their mode of transportation was walking, based on what we know today.


Things got interesting about 8,000 BC, however, when the agricultural revolution had set in for real, people started farming fields, and the first animals were domesticated – especially cows. This meant that people could now stay in one place for a long time, which led to less moving. If they wanted to find a better farming place or move for some other reason, they would now be able to use oxen to carry a lot of their belongings. Another fascinating invention that is commonly believed to have arisen around this time is the canoe. Some ingenious individuals from this Mesolithic period might even have thought about using these canoes for moving to a new home on an island or across a canal. If we jump forward to 5,000 BC, when horses had started to be ridden, people could also rest their weary feet by sitting on the horse´s back. 


Around 3,500 BC, the incredible invention of the wheel created a whole new set of opportunities for transporting a lot of goods in an energy-efficient way. Naturally, this development made it easier for people to move, as they could either walk, sit on horseback, or sit in carts and carriages (if there were roads for it) that would take them much further with more convenience. For the next 5,000 years, transportation would mainly happen through the various means of walking, riding on horseback, sitting in carriages, and ever-larger boats. 

Motorized vehicles

The next big invention that revolutionized the way moving is done, was the train in the early 1800s. As soon as enough railroad tracks were made, people were able to move hundreds of miles in just a few days, something that would usually take several weeks when moving through rugged and difficult terrain. The 1800s proved to be quite the industrious year, leading to the development of more and more efficient trains, boats, cars, and in the 1900s, even airplanes. Beyond that point comes all the options we have today. 

What You Need to Know About Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

What You Need to Know About Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is a highly recommended tourist destination that is located outside Wick. It is more or less like a dream vacation if you consider spectacular sceneries to be the best ingredients for a smooth vacation. But Castle Sinclair Girnigoe has a lot more to offer, and we are here to tell you all about it. So go forward and read about what you need to know about Castle Sinclair Girnigoe.

What You Need to Know About Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The Great Walk

The walk up to the castle is a dream walk because it is located on the edge of a cliff. As a result, stepping it up and visiting the place is sure to have a mesmerizing effect on you. Despite its cliff-side location, you need not be worried about safety because the palace is fenced, and everyone can move happily. Thanks to that, the trip and the walk up to the castle will have an impact and be a memorable experience.


One look at the castle, and you are bound to think about a historical movie set or a castle made to shoot Game of Thrones. The fascinating structure has a history to it, and it is with exploring. Surrounded by the sea on either side, the caste and the area were known to be occupied by Neolithic people. Since it makes up for being a classic defensive position, you can surely understand why it went on to be historic.

The Sinclair Family occupied the place in the late 14th Century and became the Earls of Caithness and also the Earls of Orkney. As a result, there is a lot to know about the place, and you need to do so by visiting it.

The Transformation

The defensive position set up by the castle was particularly useful for a lot of reasons. But that was not always required, and there came a time for a change. The Renaissance period brought about that change, and it was during this time that the castle saw a transformation. From being a unique spot for defence, it went on to become a grand mansion. As a result, large leaded windows, a banqueting chamber, a bakehouse chamber, and so on came into the picture.

The Clan Sinclair Trust

Historic architectural buildings have faced problems due to high winds and other related aspects. As a result, the castle was no exception, and it had to withstand the threat of and find a way to reverse the damage. Due to that, Clain Sinclair Trust was set up, and it has been doing a lot of work to get things moving. To make matters all the more interesting, there is also a new footbridge, which was built in 2008.

Hence, you need to visit this palace and explore all that they have to offer.

The Castle

The Castle

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
click to enlarge

Located about five miles north of Wick the Castle is dramatically and grandly situated on a long narrow peninsula projecting into Sinclair Bay and the North Sea with perpendicular sides of between fifty and sixty feet. It is separated from the mainland primarily by an arm of the sea known as a goe. This is a Norse word meaning a cave, a rocky inlet or creek or a deep ravine that admits the sea. The remaining separation is by a dry moat over which there was a drawbridge to the Castle which was protected on the mainland side by a barbican. There are two distinct groups of buildings forming the Castle as it is divided into an inner and outer bailey by another dry moat.

Access to the outer bailey is through a vaulted late 14th Century passageway which leads into a courtyard, surrounded by buildings. There was a drawbridge over the internal dry moat to the surviving Tower House which rises to three storeys, with one wing built to the east on the sea side. One of the two rooms forming the basement of the Tower House probably contained a well – now in-filled. The inner bailey has a range of out buildings running to the end of the peninsula where a stone staircase cut through the middle of it descends to a sally point.

This impressive stronghold was built as one Castle in the late 14th century and adapted regularly over time until abandoned and partially demolished in the mid 17th Century. It is built of Caithness slate with red sandstone facings and was once lime-washed. Archaeological excavations have revealed that was a high status Castle of vital importance and had incorporated into it the latest architectural ideas.

It has the highest classification for preservation in the UK being a Scheduled Monument and was listed in 2002 by the World Monuments Fund as one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World in their Watch List published every two years.

History of the Castle – Myths and Facts

History of the Castle – Myths and Facts

Daniell’s 1821 Illustration of the Castle from the East
click to enlarge

No Sinclair family papers exist that tell us the history of the Castle. Furthermore, until recently we knew of no written reference to the Castle pre 1700, by which time the Castle was already a ruin it has been discovered that the last three hundred years of history are based on later interpretation without, it can now be proven, proper research. Until Field Archaeology Specialists Ltd (FAS) of the University of York were commissioned to prepare a Conservation Plan of the Castle in 2002 it was commonly held that there were two castles, one built in the mid to late fifteenth century and the other in the early seventeenth and that they had been attacked and destroyed by cannon in about 1680.

One or two Castles?
On the Ordinance Survey maps and in books one will find reference to Castle Sinclair and Castle Girnigoe.

The first record of a visit we have found is from a Reverend John Brand, who visited the site in 1700 whilst on a visit to Caithness with the Commissioners from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In his “Brief Description of Orkney, Zetland, Pightland Firth and Caithness” he wrote:

“…upon the south side of the bay next to Wick have been two strong Castles joined to one another by a Draw Bridge, called Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe, the former hath been the strongest House, but the latter they ordinarily had their dwelling in; their situation is upon a rock disjoined from the Land, environed for the most part with the Sea, to which Castles from the Land, they passed also by a Bridge which was drawn up every night, whence there was no access to them. I found the year of God upon the Lintel of a window in Castle Sinclair to be 1607; which hath been the year wherein this castle was built or at least repaired. Some account these two Castles to be but one, because of their vicinity.” (Brand 1701, 155).

The Rev John Brand had started a fashion that a later visitor the Reverend (later Bishop) Richard Pococke followed. He described his visit to the castle in 1760 in a letter to his sister:

“I went to see the castles of Carnigo and Sinclair, the first situated on a rock over the sea, and separated from the land by a deep fossee, over which there was a draw-bridge… The other is close to it, built for an elder son; in both of them are several apartments, and beyond the first are several little courts on the rocks: Sinclair was built in the time of King Charles the Second, and the King’s Arms are on it;… This Sinclair was the last of them” (Pococke 188 ,160).

It would seem that the very appearance of the site helped to give rise to the idea that there were two there, rather than one castle, as the two sets of ruins are separated by a dry moat in addition to the larger moat around the property. The main structure is the Tower House, and this became known as ‘Castle Girnigoe’. All that remains of the West Gate House is the structure around the chimney stack, and the construction and appearance gave rise to the idea that this was ‘Castle Sinclair’. ‘Castle Girnigoe’ was deemed to have been built for strength and ‘Castle Sinclair’ for beauty, reminiscent of that other well known Sinclair edifice, Rosslyn Chapel, and its famous pillars.

From the archaeological work carried out by FAS, detailed in their Conservation Plan produced in 2003, it became clear that there had been one Castle on the site from the beginning. Further historical research established that ‘Sinclair’ first came into the name in 1606, when George, the Fourth Earl of Caithness gained an Act of Parliament declaring that Girnigoe should be known as Castle Sinclair: “Oure Souerane Lord ad Estattis of pliamet pntlie convenit for certane Cause and considerationis hes thocht meit and expedient to alter and change the Name of the castell of girnigo in Caithnes And statutis & ordinis that in all tyme comig the said castell sail be callit castell Sinclair.” Furthermore when one looks at Blau’s version of Pont’s map of Caithness printed in 1664 its description of the Castle is ‘Girnigho or Groën gho now called Caftell Sincleer’

Because the two names have been in use for over three hundred years the Trustees have agreed to call the Castle Sinclair Girnigoe although technically, due to the Act of Parliament, it should just be called Castle Sinclair.

When was the Castle built?
The history books tell us that the Tower House that was known as ‘Girnigoe’ was built in the late fifteenth century. There is no evidence for this but we presume that the deduction was made because the title of Earl of Caithness was granted in 1455 and there is a charter signed in Girnigoe in 1496. The newer part, Sinclair, was built in the seventeenth century because of the stone found by the Rev. John Brand with the date 1607 engraved on it. What these writers failed to take into account was that the same Sinclair family who became Earls of Caithness were already Earls of Orkney with a Castle in Kirkwall and had married the daughter of the last Norse earls of Caithness in the mid 1300’s so had been in the north for a hundred years before being granted the title of Earl of Caithness.

The first discovery by FAS was that the “new” part of the structure, referred to erroneously as Castle Sinclair was, in fact, part of a much earlier building. There are strong indications that the lower part formed part of a gate-keep tower of an enclosure castle built in the late fourteenth century. This is nearly one hundred years earlier than we had believed any buildings were erected on site. Other parts of the Castle also date from this time and it has to be assumed that other elements on the site, thus far not identified, also date to this early period. It is now clear that the Tower House known as Girnigoe is a significantly later building, and was probably only completed finally in its current form in the early seventeenth century. Nevertheless, it is erected on a foundation of earlier construction, and the rest of the site contains impressive fabric from this period.

Some of the curtain wall remains, and the best piece adjoins the east of the Tower House, and can be dated to the mid fifteenth century, much earlier than the Tower House. The walling was remodelled then to take account of the increasingly common use of guns and in particular the hagbut. It is now clear that there were a number a periods of rebuilding and alterations to suit the social and/or military fashion of the day but the full extent might only be determined after all the work on the Castle has been completed.

Historic Location Map
Historic Location Map
Click to enlarge

The Castle Ruins
The Castle Ruins
Click to enlarge

Was it destroyed by cannon?
The history books tell us that the Castle ceased to be inhabited after it was partially destroyed by cannon in about 1680, ironically by a Sinclair, George of Keiss, who was denying the Castle to Campbell of Glenorchy, who had seized the Castle and claimed the title of Earl of Caithness as settlement of the debts of the 6th Earl of Caithness. However the register of the Privy Seal of Scotland vi, 599 states that George Sinclair of Keiss “did throw down and demolish the forts of castle Sinclair and Girnigoe belonging to the said Earle, and broke down the roofe thereof and the doores and windows, drawbridge and iron gates thereof and did pull up the floors and threw to the ground the hewn stone of the battlement. Likeas they did carry with them all the beds, furniture and whole timber work of the severall houses…”. Recent archaeological excavations would support that the Castle did not suffer an attack by cannon but there is substantial evidence of the occupation of the castle by Cromwell’s troops and they might have started the demolition as they did elsewhere.

Was the castle ever properly surveyed?
Academic interest in the castle was first recorded in the “Ordinance Survey Original Object Placename” books from 1871, which describes the ruins in detail. MacGibbon and Ross undertook a full survey of the buildings in 1884 “The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland”. Their plans are the basis for much of the study undertaken in the past century and provide useful information on parts of the structure which have collapsed since. The Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) visited the castle in about 1900 and their findings are documented in the “Inventory of the Monuments and Constructions of the County of Caithness”” (first published in 1911 and republished 1977). Their plans and elevations were heavily based upon the MacGibbon and Ross’ 1884 plans. However these surveys were of the existing structure and did not include an archaeological survey or proper historical research which might have exposed some of the wrong deductions. For instance a sea wall is shown on MacGibbon and Ross’s plan of 1884 but FAS have so far found no evidence that it ever existed and it does not appear on the Daniell print of the Castle dated 1821. The advantage for us is that we are very fortunate that the archaeologists have a ‘virgin’ site on which to work and one of the great assets is that nothing has happened to the castle except continuous ruination for the last three hundred years and thus the correct history has a better chance of being told.

What is the correct history?
We will not obtain the most accurate picture until all the preservation work is complete but one can follow the progress in the archaeological reports.