Past the Scottish Mainland are the far-flung isles of Orkney and Shetland, home to famous Norse settlers and castle builders. Scalloway Castle is one of only two castles constructed in Shetland (the other being Muness Castle) and was once home to Earl Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney and Shetland.
Historic Environment Scotland now manages the mighty castle, one of the most accessible attractions visitors can see while in the Shetland Isles. We’ll cover the in-depth history of Scalloway Castle, how to get there & details to know, and attractions to look out for.
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History of Scalloway Castle
Scalloway Castle’s history begins in 1564 when Robert Stewart was granted lands in Orkney and Shetland and became an unpopular leader of the Isles. Robert Stewart was King James V’s illegitimate son, notorious for seizing lands and misusing taxes. Robert was highly unpopular with the local lairds, who later turned the later King James VI against Stewart and had his Earldom revoked.
Robert’s son, Patrick Stewart, would succeed the titles when his father died and continue his progenitor’s practices of seizing land. Earl Patrick Stewart would later construct Scalloway Castle in 1607. Scalloway Castle was not the main residence of Earl Patrick but rather a place for his representatives to reside during his reign. The castle’s building is also controversial, as unpaid parish workers built it.
The construction of Scalloway Castle was overseen by Andrew Crawford, who is likely responsible for Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall and Muness Castle in Unst.
Two years after its construction, the lairds of Shetland complained about Earl Patrick’s misrule, and the King of Scotland imprisoned the Earl. Patrick was kept in Edinburgh Castle, and later, the King would dispense justice and execute Patrick in 1615. Responsibility over the Shetland Isles would pass to James Law, Bishop of Orkney.
As time passed, the conditions of Castle Scalloway continued to deteriorate and historical records described the castle as ‘poor’ in structure and quality. The ornamental stonework is still very present when you visit the castle today. Historic Scotland undertakes continued maintenance to ensure the castle doesn’t fall further into ruin.
How to Get There & Details To Know
Scalloway Castle is not a typical attraction that you can reach by car or public transit. It’s situated in the far-flung Shetland Isles, which is only reachable by ferry and plane.
The castle is free to visit, without any entrance fees to visit the premises. You’ll need to ask for keys to the castle from the Scalloway Museum.
Scalloway Castle is currently closed until further notice for essential construction work.
How to Get There by Ferry
There are several ways to reach the magical Shetland Mainland via ferry, but the most popular ways are from Kirkwall and Aberdeen. The Northlink Ferries offer overnight passage to Lerwick from these destinations, allowing you to meet the new day with views out to the remote Shetland Isles.
How to Get There by Airport
The quickest way to reach Lerwick from all over Scotland is through Shetland’s airport. Sumbugh Aiport has several flights connecting it to popular destinations, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. The most frequent flights to Lerwick are from Aberdeen.
Attractions at Scalloway Castle
The mighty ruins of Scalloway Castle are a unique attraction in the heart of the town of Scalloway, making them easy to visit along with an eventful day of sightseeing. While visiting Scalloway Castle, take advantage of these attractions in and around the historic site.
See the Magnificent Interior
Small but prominent is a phrase that sums up the 16th-century tower house nicely, and those who visit should pay special attention to the magnificent interior of the castle. Remember to collect the key from the Scalloway Museum to enter the castle.
On the ground level, you are surrounded by the massive stone walls of the tower house, and remnants of spiral stairs that once led to the castle’s first floor. The ground level also leads to a cellar below the castle, which holds informative signs depicting a brief history of the parts of Scalloway, including the great hall.
Visit the Scalloway Museum
Close to Scalloway Castle sits the Scalloway Museum, your guide to the fascinating history of Scalloway. Relive and learn about the history of Earl Patrick and his son, Robert Patrick, and how they misused taxes and lands from the lairds around the Isles.
The Scalloway Museum also has several unique exhibits covering Scalloway’s ancient history, Scalloway at war, and everything in between!
Explore the Shetland Islands
Scalloway Castle is one of only two castles on the Shetland Isles, but you should still venture across this remote expanse to see what other historical attractions it holds. Through sand and rock, visitors to the Shetland Isles can also look forward to the Shetland Crofthouse Museum, Foula island, and the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse.