The Castle of Mey: A Complete Guide

Find out all you need to know including what to do, where to stay, where to eat and how to get to The Castle of Mey, North Scotland.

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The Castle of Mey (formerly known as Barrogill Castle) is the most northerly castle on the UK and Scottish mainland.

Along with Dunrobin Castle, it is one of the iconic historic homes along the north east section of the North Coast 500, a 500-mile coastal driving route around the Northern Highlands of Scotland.

Formerly owned by the Queen Mother Elizabeth, the Castle of Mey retains many of the loving details and touches of its time as her home.

The Castle of Mey

Where is the Castle of Mey
The Castle of Mey is on the north coast of Scotland, in the historical county of Caithness. It is around 120 miles north of Inverness, the principal city of the Scottish Highlands, and 270 miles north of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The Castle of Mey is situated overlooking the Pentland Firth with views towards the Orkney Isles.

A panoramic view of the Castle of Mey
Here is a panoramic view of the Castle of Mey which scans the landscape from the castle's bed and breakfast, The Granary Lodge, towards the Pentland Firth and the Orkney Isles. It continues by the car parking area, the castle's shop and tearoom before settling on the castle itself. 

John O'Groats and Duncansby Head are around 7.5 miles east of the Castle of Mey and are the most north easterly points of the British mainland.

Around 8.5 miles to the west of Mey is Dunnet Head, the most northerly peninsula of Scotland and mainland Britain. Dunnet Head is an RSPB nature reserve and home to bird species including puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes. 

Who owns the Castle of Mey
The Castle of Mey was owned by the Queen Mother, Elizabeth, from 1952-1996. It is now owned by the Castle of Mey Trust.

What to do at the Castle of Mey
There are different tickets available to the castle, depending on what you would like to do.

  • A ticket for the castle, garden and grounds allows you to take a guided tour of the castle rooms, visit the walled gardens, the animal centre and surrounding woodland.
  • A ticket for the gardens and castle grounds excludes the castle interiors but gives you access to the castle garden, animal centre and woodlands.

The Castle
As part of a tour of the inside of the castle, you will see the rooms of the Castle of Mey including:

  • the front hall
  • the drawing room
  • the equerry's room
  • the library
  • the Queen Mother's bedroom
  • the private secretary's bedroom
  • the Queen Mother's clothes room
  • Princess Margaret's bedroom
  • the cleaning cupboard and guest bathroom
  • Lady Doris and Commander Vyner's bedroom
  • the dining room
  • the butler's pantry and kitchen

Photography is not permitted inside the Castle of Mey therefore photographs of the castle interior are rare.

Flower at the Castle of Mey

The Walled Gardens
The gardens at the Castle of Mey are protected by a "great wall" to shelter them from the fierce winds which blow from the sea at the Pentland Firth.

Affectionately maintained by staff, the two-acre garden includes old-fashioned English flowers and a wide range of vegetables which are used in the cafe.

The Animal Centre
Home to a variety of farm animals including bantams, ducks, geese, rabbits, chipmunks, pigs and a donkey.

The Woodland
Perfect for dog-walking and a stroll.

The Gift Shop
Selling books, items in the Queen Mother's check fabric, pottery and local food and craft products, including:

  • A Taste of Mey a hardback book of recipes from friends and acquaintances of the Castle of Mey and Royal Family. Dishes include the Scottish smoked fish soup, Cullen Skink, roast rib of beef, Scottish langoustines with Samphire, shortcake and Castle of Mey Christmas cake.
  • Reids of Caithness shortbread produced locally by Reids bakers, these unusual biscuit flavours - blue cheese & walnut, and smoky sea salt & strong cheddar - are particularly good as a savoury accompaniment to cheese.
Castle of Mey Recipe Book Reids Shortbread Biscuits

The Tea Rooms
Serving fresh sandwiches, soups, cakes and hot drinks.

How long do you need to visit the Castle of Mey?
A two-hour visit enables you to see both the interior rooms of the castle and the grounds.

When is the Castle of Mey open
The Castle of Mey is open from May to September annually. See current opening times.

Is the Castle of Mey dog-friendly?
Dogs are permitted in the woodland, but not in the castle or the walled gardens.

What do near the Castle of Mey
John O'Groats
John O'Groats has ferries which run day trips to the Orkney Isles to see attractions and landmarks including the Italian Chapel, Skara Brae, the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.

There is also a 90-minute Wildlife Cruise which passes the uninhabited island of Stroma and the majestic sea stacks near Duncansby Head.

Dunnet
To reach the peninsula, you can either walk or drive the ascending cliffs at Dunnet Head to see the birds and vista towards the Orkney Isles.

Alternatively walk the long solitary beach at Dunnet Bay or stroll through the community forest at Dunnet. Nearby is Dunnet Bay Distillery which runs distillery tours and has a gift shop if you would like to experience its most well-known spirits, Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka.

Where to eat
The Castle of Mey has a tea room for lunch and afternoon tea, serving freshly made sandwiches, cakes and hot drinks. The cafe is closed in the evening.

For restaurants and dining options near the Castle of Mey, consider:

  • The Northern Sands Hotel in Dunnet (5.5 miles) a hotel restaurant and bar for a pub lunch, afternoon tea or dinner featuring a local menu with Scottish foods and drinks
  • Stacks Coffee House and Bistro in John O'Groats (7.5 miles) an independent cafe and coffee shop serving flat breads, toasted sandwiches, soups, hot drinks and cakes
  • Captain's Galley Restaurant in Scrabster (15.5 miles) an upmarket harbour seafood restaurant for a more casual lunch or special evening meal.

Where to shop
The Castle of Mey gift shop sells a range of local products including pottery, books, biscuits and souvenirs.

For further shopping near the Castle of Mey:

  • The Dunnet Bay Distillery Shop in Dunnet (5.5 miles) has Rock Rose Gin, Holy Grass Vodka and gin-inspired presents such as jams, chocolates, candles and gift sets.
  • The Gallery in John O'Groats (7.5 miles) sells local arts and crafts including limited edition prints, pottery and glassware.
  • The North Coast Emporium in John O'Groats (7.5 miles) sells Caithness food products including smoked foods from Caithness Smokehouse, chutneys and jams by Caithness Summer Fruits, chocolates and sweets as well as handbags, home furnishings and knitted toys.

Where to sleep
At the Castle of Mey the castle has self-catering and B&B accommodation:

  • The Granary Lodge bed and breakfast in the grounds of the Castle of Mey has ten rooms
  • The Captain's House is a self-catering cottage in the castle grounds which sleeps up to six people.

B&B and self-catering accommodation near the Castle of Mey there are a number of bed and breakfasts along the North Coast 500 driving route, as well as self-catering accommodation including:

  • Natural Retreats in John O'Groats (7.5 miles) self-catering accommodation set in the former John O'Groats Hotel. Includes apartments and lodges furnished with a Scandinavian feel.

Hotels near the Castle of Mey options include:

  • The Forss House Hotel near Thurso (19 miles) a four-star boutique hotel set in leafy grounds
  • Mackays Hotel in Wick (20 miles) a cosy hotel with an extensive whisky bar, located on the shortest street in the world.

Camping there are campsites at Dunnet Bay (6 miles), John O'Groats (7.5 miles), Thurso Bay (14 miles) and Wick (20.5 miles).

How to get to the Castle of Mey

  • By Car: on the A836, the Castle of Mey is 14 miles east of thurso and 7.5 miles west of John O'Groats.
  • By Bus: the number 80 route operated by Stagecoach runs from Thurso to Mey. Read more

What is the nearest railway station to the Castle of Mey?
The closest train station to the Castle of Mey is Thurso (14 miles away) which connects to Inverness, the principal city in the Scottish Highlands with a journey time to Thurso of around 4 hours on the Far North Railway Line.

What is the nearest airport to the Castle of Mey?
The closest airport is Wick-John O'Groats which flies locally to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Inverness Airport flies to UK and Scottish destinations including London, Orkney and Shetland, as well as Amsterdam.

Where next

  • West: to Durness via Bettyhill, the Kyle of Tongue and Loch Eriboll
  • North: to the Orkney Isles for Neolithic ruins
  • South: to Inverness, the principal city in the Scottish Highlands via Dunrobin Castle, the largest historic home in the Northern Highlands. 

Drives

John O'Groats to the Castle of Mey
Journey from the most north-easterly point of the British mainland, past the harbour at Gills Bay which (like John O'Groats) operates a ferry service to the Orkney Isles. The journey is just over 15 minutes and passes by Canisbay Church.

Canisbay Church was attended regularly by the Queen Mother when she was staying at the Castle of Mey. The church is several centuries old and purportedly built upon a broch.

Scrabster and Thurso to the Castle of Mey
Scrabster is one of three harbours on the North East Coast of Scotland providing ferries to Orkney. See the drive from Scrabster, via Thurso (the nearest railway station) and through Dunnet, on to the Castle of Mey.

Further resources
If you're exploring the north coast of the Scottish Highlands, read our complete guide to Dunrobin Castle.