Noltland Castle / Isle of Westray **

Region: Orkney Islands

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The castle was built sometime between 1560 and 1574 by Gilbert Balfour, a Scot from Fife with a particularly ruthless personal history, who had acquired through marriage lands in Westray in 1560.

He had taken part in the notorious murder of Cardinal Beaton in 1546. He would also go on to help plan the murder of Lord Darnley, Mary's husband, in 1567.

When Mary, Queen of Scots was arrested following Lord Darnley's death in 1567, Balfour retreated to the relative safety of Noltland to wait out the political storm. He did eventually return to fight on Mary's behalf, but when her bid to regain the Scottish throne failed, Balfour fled to Europe. He died in 1576 while fighting as a mercenary in Sweden.

The castle was seized by the rapacious Earl of Orkney, Patrick Stewart (Black Patie), but handed back to the Balfours after Stewart's arrest for treason. The castle was held by supporters of the Marquis of Montrose in 1650, but a group of local Covenanters captured Noltland and burned it. The castle was damaged by fire again in 1746, and finally abandoned shortly after. It was allowed to fall into a ruinous state and was eventually given into state care by the Balfour family.

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