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Architecture - (b) Military

Sir Robert Gordon writes of the castles and peels in his time (1630) thus:-

"The castles and pyles of Southerland ar Dornogh, Dunrobin (the Erle of Sutherland his special residence), a house weill seated upon a mote hard by the sea, with fair orchards, etc. The castle and pyles of Skelbo, Pronsie, Skibo (wher ther is a fair orchard, in which ther be excellent cherries), Pulrossie, Einwershin, Golspitour, Colspikirktoun, Helmsdell (which was re-edifeid and repaired the yeir of God 1616, by Sir Alexander Gordon of Navidell, brother of John Erle of Southerland, last deceased); Torrish (built also by the said Sir Alexander Gordon, the yeir of God 1621), Crakok, Cuttle, Clyn, Enbo, Castle-Negoir, Durnies, Doun-Creigh, Abirscors, Ospisdale, Kentredwale, Borve, and Toung. These two last are in Strathnaver. Doun Creigh wes built with a strange kynd of morter, by one Paull Macktyre. This I doe take to be a kynd of vre; howsoever, this is most certaine, that ther hath not been seen ane harder kynd of morter".

Of the "pyles" mentioned by Sir Robert all that now remain in occupation are the older portions of Dunrobin Castle and the tower of the bishop's palace at Dornoch. Helmsdale Castle, built in 1488, is now a picturesque ruin. A small portion of the old castle of Lord Duffus at Skelbo still stands, but the castles at Proncy, lnvershin, Torrish, and Borve, are reduced to green mounds. Castle "na Coire", at Roschall was a place of great strength, with walls seven feet thick, but it is now so much ruined that the details of the structure cannot be traced. The other "pyles" mentioned by Sir Robert are now entirely gone. No part of the old castle of Skibo remains.

Of Castle Varrich, an old peel of the Mackays on a promontory near the head of the Kyle of Tongue, only the outer walls remain. They are from four to five feet in thickness. The great chimney of the old bishop's palace at Dornoch survives to show that the higher Roman clergy must have lived well. The windows of the tower may have been enlarged after the palace was burnt by the Mackays in 1570. The windows of the topmost story have not been altered. The stronghold of the Macleods of Assynt at Ardvreck on the north side of Loch Assynt was a rectangular keep. The walls remain and also a ruined staircase tower at one angle, the turret stair to the upper rooms being carried on corbelling. The rooms in the basement and in the first floor were vaulted. This castle has stood unoccupied for over two hundred years and is now in a ruinous condition.

Architecture - (c) Municipal and Domestic

It is significant that for many years the only municipal building in the county was the tolbooth or prison. There appears to have been a tolbooth in Dornoch prior to 1628, and it may have been used under the jurisdiction conferred upon the sheriff by the Scottish statute of 1503. After the Reformation the dignified canons had fallen upon evil days and the cathedral chapter-house, no longer needed for its original purpose, became the tolbooth. In 1730 this tolbooth had to be renovated and the new building served a council- house and tolbooth until 1813. This council-house appears to have served also during the eighteenth century as courthouse for the sheriff and magistrates of the county. In 1813 Dornoch Castle was repaired and adapted to serve the purposes of a county and municipal building, while the castle tower was converted into a jail.

A handsome prison in Scottish baronial style erected in 1843 cost £3000. On the passing of the Prisons Act (1877) its use as a jail was discontinued and shortly afterwards it became the headquarters of the local Territorial Force. The existing county buildings, completed in 1850, form a handsome edifice with lancet windows and a piazza, where good accommodation is provided for the county officials.

There are few domestic dwellings in Sutherland older than the nineteenth century, and no dwelling older than the eighteenth century except the castles of Dunrobin and Dornoch. Dwelling houses dating from the eighteenth century are the mansion houses of Tongue, Creich, Embo, Ospisdale, and Balnakil, and one or two houses in Dornoch. Embo House is a good example of the domestic architecture of the later eighteenth century.

The shooting lodges, the larger farm houses, the hotels, and even the manses of the clergy have all been erected within the past hundred years. Within that time also all the houses of the smaller tenants as they now stand, have been built. Some of the shooting lodges, such as those at Loch More, Loch Stack, Lairg, Syre, Tressady, Borrobol, are houses of imposing appearance, not only comfortable but even luxurious in all their appointments. Mr Andrew Carnegie erected a massive and well-equipped castle at Skibo, which drew the admiration of Edward VII when he visited the great American in 1903.

Dunrobin Castle, enlarged and renovated in 1846, is one of the finest residences in the British Isles. It suffered from a great fire in 1915 but is again being restored to its original splendour.

In Rogart and Creich granite is largely used for building purposes. Old Red Sandstone is used on the east coast and provides a substantial building stone which is easily worked. The Brora oolitic sandstone gives a brighter appearance than the Old Red and is also durable. Altogether housing conditions in the county are good and are a marked advance upon those of former days. The "black" cottages almost universal a century ago as residences not only of smaller tenants but of farmers and middle-class gentry, have now almost totally disappeared. The thatch roofs, so prevalent in the middle of last century, yielded warmth and comfort to the cottages of that time, but have almost universally given place to roofs of iron and slate. Though an advance from the economic standpoint, these modern roofs lack the picturesque beauty of the older style. The older dwellings of the county were gravely defective in ventilation and drainage. The advance in sanitation within the past half century has been not less striking than the improvement in architecture.

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