Fordell Castle is a restored 16th-century tower house. The earliest charter in the Henderson of Fordell papers dates from 1217.
It is not known when the original castle structure was constructed, but the main entrance tower is believed to date from the 1400s. James Henderson, 3rd of Fordell, started to extend the castle in 1566. In 1568 the castle was damaged by fire, then rebuilt. Evidence of the fire can be seen to the left of the main entrance tower.
Sir John Henderson rebuilt St Theriot's Chapel in 1650 for use as a family mausoleum. The castle was damaged by Oliver Cromwell's army troops garrisoned at the castle in 1651.
In the 19th century, Fordell Castle was rarely occupied; the main hall is said to have been converted into a stable for a time. George Mercer-Henderson modernized the castle and installed the gates. The north front was rebuilt in 1855 (designed by Robert Hay).
Author James Henderson CBE (no relation), purchased the estate in 1953. He restored the castle to a good standard and it was inhabited for the first time since 1726. In 2007, Fordell Castle was sold for £3,850,000 to Stuart Simpson, the 17th Baron of Fordell, making it the fifth-highest-priced home ever sold in Scotland. The Castle remains a private residence.
The castle is a fortified house (fortalice) designed on a Z-plan running east-west, with square towers at the north-west and south-east corners, each containing a circular staircase. Fordell Castle is the only example of a tower house with two main stairs, each with its own door to the outside. The entrance is at the foot of the north stair tower and is through a studded door with a metal grate (yett) behind. It gives access to a vestibule. Stairs lead down to three vaulted basement chambers.The western chamber included stocks and branks, but the room has since been converted to a wine cellar. A rogue's collar or jougs hangs near the front entrance to the castle.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.