First mentioned in 1211, Skibo Castle (Skee-bo), was the home of the Bishops of Caithness. Skibo is a Norse word for, “Shell Farm”.

It is situated to the west of Dornoch, in Sutherland Highland county and overlooks the Dornoch Firth. In 1545 the church gave the estate to John Gray, head of a prominent Catholic family. This was to try and prevent it falling under the threat of Protestantism, which was creeping into Scotland. However, like most grand houses and castles, throughout Scotland, up to the middle of the eighteenth century, it fluctuated between the two religions.

In 1745 Robert Gray relinquished the estate and numerous owners continually bought and sold it. The castle’s fortune prospering or declining, with the assets, of each different laird.

George MacKay really loved the place, he built a smaller house to live in and tried hard to maintain the grounds, but eventually his money ran out and the estate once more found itself, back in the hands of the Gray family.  William Gray had great plans to restore the castle to its original grandeur, but then he died and, unfortunately, left in his wife’s hands it deteriorated even further. The Gray’s are a Sept of Clan Sutherland, originally from the Norse invaders and were always “men of business”, but in 1785 the castle changed hands again.

George Dempster, a man of wealth, from Aberdeen established better agricultural methods, repaired the crofters’ dwellings, and introduced superior farming rights, other than the old medieval tie system. The tenants, farmers and the estate all started to prosper, but he preferred to live in the smaller house and left the castle to decay.

Andrew Carnegie born in 1835, was an American Immigrant. His parents had left Scotland in poverty, when he was only thirteen years old. He started work as a telegrapher and within twelve years had investments in railroads, bridges and oil machinery. He looked after his mother until she died in 1886. A year later he married, Louise Whitfield, twenty-one years younger than himself. Ten years later, they had their only child, a daughter, he called after his mother, ‘Margaret’.

It was his daughter’s birth that prompted him to go in search of an estate, to buy, in his home country of Scotland and he found Skibo Castle. He took it immediately on a one-year lease with an option to buy. Which he did so, for 85,000,00 pounds in 1898. Carnegie was at this time one of the richest men in the world.

In 1901 he sold his company U.S.Steel for $480 million U.S. which in 2014 equates to $372 billion U.S. Andrew’s thought on wealth was, “the man who dies rich, dies disgraced.”

His first benefaction to the people of Dumfermline was an 80 acre park. The Carnegie UK Trust, supplied 650 libraries, art studios and sports arenas. By his death in 1919 he had given away 350 million pounds in public amenities.

The castle needed 2 million pounds spent on it for improvements and enlarging it from 16,000sq.ft. to over 60,000sq.ft. plus the added features of an indoor swimming pool, a 9-hole golf course and creating Loch Ospisdale. The Carnegie family kept Skibo until 1982, when it was bought by Peter de Savary. He founded “The Carnegie Club” and it became a luxurious retreat.

Then finally in 2003, Ellis Short bought it for 23 million pounds and made it into the exclusive place it is today. A private members-only club. Madonna and Guy Ritchie married there on 22nd December 2000. The grounds now include Lake Louise, a very small artificial lake, (and there are not many bodies of water in Scotland called lakes).

During the latter half of the eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries before the Carnegie sale, the castle had many private owners. With many different masters the castle was for a time left in charge of the manservant. “While the cats away, the mice will play”, and so to the castle, one night, came a silly peasant girl being wooed by one of the “gentlemen” of the house. She was never seen again.

Questions were raised, many were skeptical, but no body was found. The man, as shady as he seemed, was dismissed as a suspect by the local authorities and in time moved away from the area. Then the mysterious encounters began.

Locals spoke cagey of hearing wails, anguish pleads for help, shadowy visions of a ghost running aimlessly down the corridors and distress calls from the castle’s roof tops.

Years later, as the serious renovations began, workmen found the bones of a woman, sealed behind a wall in the castle.






1 Comment
  1. Zoe Williams 4 years ago

    Crazy how such a beautiful castle can hold so many secrets

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