Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, first viewed the then Barrogil Castle in 1952 whilst mourning the death of her beloved husband, King George VI. She fell for its remote isolated charm and when she heard it was to be left abandoned she was inspired to save it and preserve part of Scotland’s heritage. She bought it from Captain Imbert-Terry and it was the only property that she ever owned.
Once the Queen Mother acquired the most northern castle on the Scottish mainland, she set about restoring and renovating the castle to its former glory. She changed the name back to the orginal Castle of Mey and created beautiful gardens you can visit today. For almost half a century she visited and stayed for many happy summers here and visited at other times of the year as well. She had great affection for Scotland and in particular for the warmth of the Caithness people.
The gardens consist of the Walled Garden and the East Garden with a woodland area. The overall design remains much as it was in The Queen Mother’s time. Growing plants in this northern region can be challenging at times but this didn’t stop the Queen Mother developing a beautiful and productive garden. A 15ft high ‘Great Wall of Mey’ protects the plants from fierce gales and sea spray that blows in off the Pentland Firth. The walled garden is 2 acres in size and since it opened to the public in 2002 there have been several new developments including a refurbished greenhouse for sweet Duke of York peaches and a viewing turret positioned in the South-east corner. The Queen Mother came from a family with impressive gardens such as Glamis Castle in Scotland and St Paul’s Walden Bury in Hertfordshire. As Queen her horticultural enthusiasm and skills were responsible for the garden at Royal Lodge Windsor and creating Sandringham’s formal garden and many ornamental trees and shrubs planted at Buckingham Palace. Her green fingers and horticultural experience meant that the Gardens at the Castle of Mey also flourished.
The Queen Mother even managed to nurture her favourite rose, Albertine – a pale salmon pink rose which has a wonderfully rich and fruity fragrance. A rambling rose with a branching, bushy habit and small dark green leaves. The garden today now consist of mainly roses, herbaceous perennials and old favourites like pink carnations, sweet peas and vibrant clary sage. The highlight must be the shell garden where roses and nasturtiums create a wonderful summer display and a favourite place to sit and enjoy the garden. The kitchen garden area within the walled garden also provides produce for the café and castle. Many of the fruit and vegetable varieties have been selected for their robust resistance to wind and sea spray. The current head gardener Chris Parkinson is also developing a woodland walk and adding plants that will provide year round interest. Whether you’d like to take a tour of the castle, visit the animal centre or take a wander round the walled Garden, there’s certainly something for everyone at the Castle of Mey. To find out more information about the Castle of Mey please visit www.castleofmey.org.uk