The Battle of Carbisdale

Following the execution of King Charles I in 1649, General Montrose, who was an ardent supporter of King Charles II, amassed an army to ignite a revolt in Scotland.

On Saturday 27th April 1650 General James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, fought his last battle defending the Royalist cause on the hill behind the castle. The Royalist forces fell into a trap and were routed, hundreds dying of their wounds and others drowning in the Kyle of Sutherland trying to make their escape. This hill has since been known locally as the Hill of Lamentation. A sighting of an angry and distressed apparition carrying a sword has been reported in the link corridor of the castle. The style of dress seemed to tie in with the Battle of Carbisdale. The notorious corridor of the castle where the ghost was spotted has long been considered haunted with an eerie atmosphere felt by many visitors

Built for Dutchess of Sutherland

Millicent Dutchess of Sutherland

Portrait of The Duchess of Sutherland, 1904, by John Singer Sargent. (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid)

It was built between 1906 – 1917 for the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland, a lady with a rather colourful history who was imprisoned for six weeks in Holloway Prison for contempt of court and burning documents relating to the Duke’s will and estate. The Duke’s son and heir reached an agreement giving her a substantial financial settlement that included an agreement to build a residence befitting her station, at their expense and to her specifications, provided it was outside the Sutherland lands. The Castle stands mere yards over the border into Ross-shire facing down the Kyle into Sutherland.

Norwegian Owners

In 1933 the castle was bought by the Norwegian head of the Christian Salvesen dynasty – the shipping and whaling company of Leith. Through Colonel Salvesen’s consular connections he provided King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav V with a safe refuge at Carbisdale during the Nazi occupation of Norway during WW2. After Germany attacked Russia on 22nd June 1941, King Haakon presided at the Carbisdale Conference which led to an agreement by the Allies which ensured that Russian forces, should they enter Norwegian territory, would not remain there after the war. (The Red Army entered Norway on 25th October 1944 but later withdrew in terms of the agreement).

Carbisdale as a Royal Palace for the King of Norway

During the Second World War, Carbisdale Castle was used as a royal palace for King Haakon and his son, Prince Olav, who later became the king and father of the current king. During his residence at the Castle, he supervised the training of the Norwegian army in Scotland, and made international treaties at the Castle itself. The Castle’s library, with its wealth of books and memorabilia, is named after him.

The SYHA and Carbisdale’s downfall

After the Second World War, King Haakon VII, returned to his newly liberated Norway, and in 1945 the Castle was donated to the SYHA, together with its valuable art and entire estate. The Castle opened to members on 2nd June 1945 as the SYHA’s most splendid property. It was immensely popular with visitors from all over the world. The hostel offered the usual youth hostel facilities, in this case complemented by the fine art and sculpture gallery. Unfortunately, soon the property fell into disrepair and the structure starting crumbling, as the youth hostel were unable to meet the expensive maintenance a castle of its calibre demands. Accordingly, it was offered on the market, to be finally purchased by Lady Samantha Kane of Carbisdale, who lovingly resorted the castle as her private residence.


A photograph of the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland appears immediately above a drawing of A Woman of No Importance in The Illustrated London News of April 29, 1893 (p. 516)

By Mittet & Co. – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress

Lady In White

Ghosts of Carbisdale

Room 218, originally the nursery or schoolroom, is known as the “Spook Room” and has been the spot of the majority of ghost sightings. In this room figures have walked around beds that were against the wall, rain has fallen on people, many reports of children’s’ voices and crying have been made and beds have even been turned right around.
The Piper. MacGregor has told of an old man he knew who heard pipes playing under what today is the castle’s rocky site. What an unseen piper was doing there he could not imagine though he felt sure these unaccountable strains foretold great changes in the locality. Shortly afterwards men came to blast the rock in order to build the castle. MacGregor has claimed that the playing of phantom bagpipes could be heard on other occasions and apart from the phantom pipe music there was also supposed to be phantom organ music. The ghostly organist presumably playing the organ in the castle ballroom.

The Lady in White

George Murray employed in the gardens of Carbisdale was reported to have looked up one summer’s day and there standing beside a whin-bush in front of him was the figure of a lady clad in a white dress which seemed to fall as if draped from her shoulders. In an instance she was gone. George proceeded instantly to the spot where he had seen her but could find no-one there, nor anything to explain matters. Two or three times that summer Murray reputedly saw the apparition and it was also seen by at least two others. Local speculation has it that this is none other than Duchess Blair who did not live to see her castle completed.

Information on this page was sourced from Badly packed traveller blog