Scheduled Monument

Keiss Castle,350m SSE of Square of KeissSM623

Status: Designated


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Date Added
Last Date Amended
Secular: castle
Local Authority
ND 35689 61645
335689, 961645


The monument consists of a roofless castle, built on a slight headland, together with an area corresponding to part of its associated barmkin.

The castle, first recorded in 1563, probably dates from the second half of the 16th century, and can be related stylistically to a group of castles in Ayrshire and Argyll, such as Gylen Castle. The Z-plan tower house consists of 4 storeys (the lowest vaulted) plus attic, both jambs being circular or near-circular on plan. The main block is very narrow in relation to its height, measuring 8.4m NW-SE by 7.2m SW-NE over walls 1m in thickness, and the effect of loftiness seems to have been deliberately enhanced by tall chimneystacks. The N angle of the castle has collapsed. The jamb at the W angle contains the remains of a newel stair giving access to the first and second floors; at this level a stair turret is corbelled out of the NW wall to give access to the upper floors. A modern buttress supports the W angle of the W jamb, and on the inner side of the jamb are traces suggesting that a former entrance has been blocked. Both the corbelled base of the stair turret and the dormer window in the SW wall are heavily ornamented with billet moulding.

The sides of the promontory are revetted, but there are no other obvious traces of the castle to the NW of the tower, although it is likely that there was a barmkin, or outer enclosure, on this side.

The castle is dramatically sited, springing from the cliff top to SW, SE and NE, the effect apparently deliberately accentuated by the massing of the design, which is very tall for its ground plan.

Keiss Castle is recorded as being in the ownership of the Sinclair Earls of Caithness in 1623, although by 1681 it was held by a cadet branch of the family. It is described as being ruinous in 1700, but this may have been exaggeration since it was in good repair in 1726, sited beside "a convenient house lately built." The reference of 1563 to a castle at Keiss may not refer to the present structure, opening the possibility of earlier occupation on the site.

The area to be scheduled is irregular in shape and measures a maximum of 42m E-W by a maximum of 18m N-S, as indicated in red on the enclosed map. It is defined by the inner side of the modern fence to the NW and by the top edge of the cliff on the other sides. It includes the castle, the revetted sides of the promontory, and an area of ground between the castle and the modern fence where the house recorded in 1726 will have stood, presumably preceded by a barmkin.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance as the well-preserved remains of an architecturally-sophisticated tower house of probable-late 16th century date, together with an area probably occupied by associated buildings. Study of the remains has the potential to add to our understanding of the development of military fortifications, domestic life in early modern Scotland and the transmission of architectural influences within Scotland at a period when convenience of domestic planning and sophistication of design were becoming more important relative to considerations of defence.



MacGibbon & Ross: Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, Vol. 2, 267-8.

RCAHMS Caithness, 143-4.

Tranter: The Fortified House in Scotland, Vol. 5, 93-4.

Zeune: The last Scottish Castles, 249-50.

RCAHMS record the monument as ND 36 SE 1

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for the designation of buildings, monuments, gardens and designed landscapes and historic battlefields. We also advise Scottish Ministers on the designation of historic marine protected areas.

Scheduling is the way that a monument or archaeological site of national importance is recognised by law through the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments of national importance using the criteria published in the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement.

The description and map showing the scheduled area is the legal part of the scheduling. The additional information in the scheduled monument record gives an indication of the national importance of the monument(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the monument(s). The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief and some information will not have been recorded. Scheduled monument consent is required to carry out certain work, including repairs, to scheduled monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are made to us. We are happy to discuss your proposals with you before you apply and we do not charge for advice or consent. More information about consent and how to apply for it can be found on our website at

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Printed: 21/02/2019 17:58