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Architecture - (a) Ecclesiastical

Nothing now remains of the many churches or cells of the Columban Church which existed throughout Caithness in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries. According to a recent writer the location of the sites of about thirty can still be indicated. The architecture of these primitive churches was of the simplest character. Having walls of turf or dry built flagstone, they were roofed with "divot" and were entirely devoid of architectural ornament. In the troublous times of the pagan Norse occupation most of these churches must have been destroyed.

With the conversion of the Norse there began a new period of church architecture in Caithness, but the Norse churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries have almost entirely disappeared. The chancelled ruins of St Mary's at Lybster (Reay), St Thomas's at Skinner, and Gavin's Kirk at Dorrery retain some features which may be referable to this early Norse period. St Mary's Church, which is the most interesting ecclesiastical ruin in the county, closely resembles in its main features the Church of St Peter in the Orkney island of Weir. It has no window and the jambs of the doorway slope inwards,

When Gilbert succeeded to the bishopric of Caithness in 1223, the Early English style of Gothic architecture, already prevalent in the south of Scotland, extended its influence to Caithness. Gilbert erected his cathedral at a safe distance from the turbulent Norsemen, but did not neglect the northern division of his diocese. The oldest portions of the Church of St Peter's at Thurso appear to belong to this period, though the greater part of the existing ruins are referable to the sixteenth century or even later. The window in the south transept of St Peter's, with its five lights, resembles the west window in the nave of Dornoch cathedral. St Peter's Church, the most imposing ecclesiastical ruin in Caithness, deserves to be protected from further decay.

One or two of the parish churches possess features of some antiquity. The churches of Dunnet and Canisbay, with their big square towers (with saddleback roofs) probably belong to the fourteenth century. Canisbay church, however, was considerably altered at various dates and especially in the eighteenth century. The old church of Reay was reconstructed and used as a place of burial by the Mackays of Bighouse. The chapel of St Magnus, which formed part of the Hospital, is probably to be assigned to the Norse period. The bell tower or belfry of Latheron, situated on a hill about 500 yards from the church, is a somewhat unique architectural feature. It was erected about the end of the seventeenth century.

Architecture - (b) Military, Municipal and Domestic

The Norse have left but scanty remains of a military character, their power having been upon the sea. It is said that Castle Linglas was used as a stronghold by Sweyn Asleifson. The period of Roman Catholic ascendancy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was on the whole a period of civil peace, and no military monuments belonging to that period now survive. The keeps and feudal strongholds of Caithness are to be assigned to the period following the War of Independence, when the central government of Scotland was weak and the local barons turbulent and quarrelsome. These strongholds were usually erected on rock-bound promontories on the eastern and northern seaboard. Such were Berriedale Castle, The Old Man of Wick, Forse Castle and Buchollie Castle. Girnigoe Castle and the Tower of Ackergill date from the fifteenth century, while Barogill Castle, formerly the seat of the Earl of Caithness, and the picturesque Castle of Keiss (also an appanage of the Sinclairs), were erected towards the end of the sixteenth ceutury. The castles at 0ld Wick, Forse, and Keiss were merely towers or keeps, while those at Buchollie, Girnigoe, and Barogill were on a more elaborate plan, possessing courtyards with ample accommodation for the feudal magnate and his retainers.

Dunbeath Castle, which is still inhabited, exemplifies the French influence prevalent in the reign of Charles I, when military features were being displaced to meet the needs of domestic comfort.

In the interior of the county are the ruins of old Brawl Castle (with walls ten feet thick), the seat of the Earls of Caithness of the Stratherne line, erected in the fourteenth century, and Dirlot Castle, situated like Brawl in the valley of the Thurso and belonging to the same period. Dirlot was a stronghold of the Sutherlands.

The principal municipal and domestic buildings in the county are of recent date. One or two dwelling-houses in Thurso belong to the eighteenth century as well as one or two of the county mansions, but there is nothing in Wick older than the nineteenth century. One house in Shore Street, Thurso, bears the date of 1686. It has a circular turret in front containing the staircase.

Caithness sandstone or flagstone scarcely lends itself to brightness or massiveness, and few of the domestic dwellings are specially striking. Among the handsomer buildings in Wick are the Commercial Bank (built of freestone), the Court House, erected in 1866, and the North of Scotland and Town and County Bank. Thurso possesses one or two fine public buildings, such as the Miller Institution, the Town Hall, and the Dunbar Hospital. One of the chief architectural features of the county is Thurso Castle, the residence of Sir George F.S. Sinclair of Ulbster, picturesquely situated at the mouth of the Thurso River. The original building belonging to the seventeenth century was extended and modernised in the nineteenth. Langwell House, near Berriedale, the residence of the Duke of Portland, has its effect embellished by the fine plantations which now surround it.

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