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Historic Buildings of Orkney, Scotland

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Historic Buildings of Orkney

Historic County of Scotland

See Historic Buildings of Britain and Ireland - Main Page

Image right - Balfour Castle

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If you have information about any of the Buildings mentioned below please share it here. If you have ancestors linked to any of the places please add them to the project.

The object of this project is to provide information about historic buildings in the county of Orkney, with links to sub-projects for specific buildings as appropriate. GENi profiles of people associated with those establishments can be linked to this project and/or to individual projects where they have been set up.

Historic Buildings of Orkney

... in alphabetical order

❊ Indicates an available image in Gallery attached to the project

Including Castles, Abbeys, Manor Houses, Mansions, Stately Homes, Country houses, Estate houses, Courts, Halls, Parks and other listed buildings of historic interest

Bold links are to GENi profiles and projects. Others are to external webpages.



  • Balfour Castle ❊ - historic building (sometimes called a "calendar house". Balfour Castle is said to incorporate 7 turrets, 12 exterior doors, 52 rooms, and 365 panes of glass). on the southwest of Shapinsay, Orkney Islands. Though built around an older structure that dates at least from the 18th century, the present castle was built in 1847, commissioned by Colonel David Balfour. The story of Balfour Castle dates back to 1782 when Thomas Balfour purchased the estate of Sound, and had a house called Cliffdale built on it. He in 1846 the estate passed to his grandson, David Balfour. It was finished in 1848.and designed by Edinburgh architect David Bryce. In 1960 the last Balfour died, without an heir. The estate, complete with the neighbouring 800 acre farm, was purchased by Captain Tadeusz Zawadski, a Polish Cavalry Officer who had come to Britain in 1941 after escaping the massacre in the Katyn Forest. He took up residence with his Scottish wife and four children, and the family continues to run both castle, as an exclusive use venue, and farm.
  • Breckness House Breckness House was built by the Bishop of Orkney in 1633. The remains stand two storeys high. The main block lies E and W and measures 22 ft 6 ins by 41 ft 6 ins externally. A wing projects 26 ft 6 ins N. at the E. end and is 23 ft 9 ins broad. To the S of the building there has been an enclosure probably a garden.
  • Bu Of Cairston Castle
  • Burn Of Lushan Castle


  • Castle Bloody
  • Castle Grimness
  • Castle Of Snusgar
  • Castle Of Stackel Brae
  • Cubbie Roo’s Castle


  • Damsay Castle


  • Ellibister Castle


  • Halcro Castle


  • Kirkwall Castle


  • Langskaill Castle


  • Noltland Castle\


  • Sealskerry Bay Castle
  • Skaill House A simple mansion house was built for Bishop George Graham in the 1620’s. This has been added to by successive Laird’s over the centuries culminating in the addition of the north tower and wing which gives the house its characteristic profile which you see today. After 3 years of careful restoration work the house was open to the public in 1997. The house is a family home presented as it was in the 1950’s. Highlights in the house include Bishop Graham’s bedroom, Captain Cook’s dinner service, paintings by the acclaimed Orkney artist Stanley Cursiter and many other items collected during the lives of the 12 Laird’s of Skaill.
  • Smiddybanks
  • Snelsetter Castle Snelsetter Castle was the first home of the Moodie family in South Walls. Although it no longer exists, we know a lot about it. The Moodie family is said to have held land in Walls ‘from time immemorial’ according to the Moodie Book by Ruvigney published in 1906: “In a charter of the age of Queen Mary, the Moodies are, even at that early date, mentioned as 'ancient and native possessors' of certain lands in Walls, 'beyond the memory of living man,' and the first residence of the family in Orkney was undoubtedly Snelsetter Castle in South Walls… Snelsetter is about 4 miles from Melsetter, and was a very ancient fortification, the original Castle being on a detached rock in the sea.” This refers to The Candle or Pillar of Snelsetter. Although this is much eroded, it’s possible to see the remains of ancient walls on this sea stack which stands off the coast near the farm of Snelsetter. Tradition had it that the Candle of Snelsetter had some connection with Norse Viking raiders. “On the coast of the Pentland Firth, close to the farm of Snelsetter, is a detached mass of rock, wholly surrounded by the sea, upon which there formerly stood a Scandinavian stronghold or " keep," in which the fugitives of war could hide in safety and repel any number of assailants. Remains of this ancient "keep " are still visible. This part of the island is only about eight miles distant from Caithness, and would, doubtless, be the first land touched at by warlike parties coming from the mainland of Scotland. The bays of Osmundwall and Longhope, being fine natural harbours, would afford shelter and anchorage to vessels from the severest storms.” Rambles in the far North, by R. Menzies Fergusson,1884. A large house is shown in South Walls on an early map of Orkney published in 1539, the Carta Marina. This is likely to have been Snelsetter, or The House of Walls as it was known then. It seems likely that Snelsetter house as a large home was built or rebuilt in the 15th or early 16th century, possibly on the site of the present farm or just below it. The House of Walls is also shown in later old maps from 1573 and 1595, and was obviously a building of some significance. The house was seized by Earl Patrick Stewart in 1598, who turned the family out and put a garrison into it, and proceeded to fortify it. The Moodies regained Snelsetter Castle after Earl Patrick and Robert Stewart were executed in 1615. His son William Moodie married Barbara Stewart in 1670 and the Moodie Book says: “This marriage is recorded by the letters "W.M., B.S.," superimposed, cut in raised letters on a stone which originally stood over the arched gateway of Snelsetter Castle, where they resided during his father's lifetime. It was afterwards removed from the ruins of Snelsetter and built into one of the farm buildings near Melsetter House, where it may still be seen. The arched gateway is also now built into a wall at Melsetter.” By this time it is clear that Snelsetter was a castle, and it is shown as such in in the Nicolas Sanson map of 1665 where the same symbol is used for Snelsetter as is used for the castles in Caithness. It was still occupied in 1690 and Snelsetter is mentioned in The New Statistical Account of Scotland of 1845, which says the building "bears the mark of strength and antiquity", and the ruins of the old place still remained in 1868 when a couple walking in South Walls came across them (Summers and Winters in Orkney by Daniel Corrie, 1868). Mary Pearson.


  • Westness Castle

References and Sources

Orkney Specific


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Historic Buildings Projects for other Scottish Counties

See Counties of Scotland

// Historic Buildings of Aberdeenshire

// Historic Buildings of Angus

// Historic Buildings of Argyllshire

// Historic Buildings of Ayrshire

// Historic Buildings of Banffshire

// Historic Buildings of Berwickshire

// Historic Buildings of Buteshire

// Historic Buildings of Caithness

// Historic Buildings of Clackmannanshire

// Historic Buildings of Dumfries-shire

// Historic Buildings of Dunbartonshire

// Historic Buildings of East Lothian (Haddingtonshire)

// Historic Buildings of Edinburghshire

// Historic Buildings of Fifeshire, Scotland

// Historic Buildings of Inverness-shire

// Historic Buildings of Kincardineshire

// Historic Buildings of Kinross-shire

// Historic Buildings of Kirkcudbrightshire

// Historic Buildings of Lanarkshire

// Historic Buildings of Linlithgowshire

// Historic Buildings of Moray, Morayshire or Elginshire

// Historic Buildings of Nairn or Nairnshire

// Historic Buildings of Peebles-shire

// Historic Buildings of Perthshire

// Historic Buildings of Renfrewshire

// Historic Buildings of Ross and Cromarty

// Historic Buildings of Roxburghshire

// Historic Buildings of Selkirkshire

// Historic Buildings of Shetland

// Historic Buildings of Stirlingshire

// Historic Buildings of Sutherland

// Historic Buildings of Wigtownshire

// this project is in History Link