Noltland Castle dates mainly to the later 16th century, although it was never fully completed. In 1560 Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney, granted the lands of Noltland to his brother-in-law Gilbert Balfour, who built the castle. Balfour was Master of the Royal Household to Mary, Queen of Scots, and was involved in the plot to kill her husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. After Mary's deposition and exile, he continued to support the queen. Noltland was seized by Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney, an opponent of Mary's supporters, but he was forced to hand it back to Balfour in the early 1570s. Balfour died in Sweden in 1567, and in 1598 the castle was again seized by the Earl of Orkney (now Patrick Stewart, son of Robert). By 1606 the castle had been restored to the Balfours once more, when it was sold to Sir John Arnot, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who later became Sheriff of Orkney.
During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in 1650, Royalist officers occupied the castle after their defeat at the Battle of Carbisdale. Local Covenanters captured and burned the castle. By 1881 it was described as a ruin, and was given into state care by the Balfour family in 1911. it is now maintained by Historic Scotland.
The castle is built in the Z-plan form, comprising a rectangular main block with towers at opposite corners. A courtyard was added to the south in the 17th century. The castle is notable for its defensive architecture, unusual for the period, including a large number of shot holes. The large staircase has been compared to the stair at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire.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.