On the western side of Wyre are the ruins of one Scotland's oldest stone castles.
Known as Cubbie Roo's Castle, the site takes its name from the best-known giant of Orkney folklore. This has led to the widespread connection between the mythical Cubbie Roo and the castle's actual builder, the Norse chieftain, Kolbein Hrúga.
Although there are no distinctive features to allow the experts to conclusively date the structure, it is generally agreed to be have been built around 1145 AD.
This date is corroborated
by the Orkneyinga Saga, which relates
"[Kolbein Hrúga] had a fine stone fort
built there, a really solid stronghold"
The island, and its famous castle, is mentioned in other Icelandic sagas, with Kolbein referred to as
"the most haughty of men …who
had a good stone castle built there that was a safe stronghold."
The original structure was a simple stone tower, roughly eight metres square, with walls 1.7 metres thick. A series of ramparts, consisting of a ditch, earthworks and a stone wall, provided the stronghold's outer defences.
The castle's first line of defence was an earthen rampart encircling a two-metre deep ditch. Those who made it past the ditch would then have been confronted by a towering stone wall.
Today, the wall survives to a height of 1.2 metres but the sheer thickness of its base (2.2 metres) implies that it once rose to a considerable height.
Access to the security of the castle's courtyard was via a "bridge" spanning the outer ditch. This was made up of flat stone slabs laid over two drystane supports.
A second set of supports lie immediately to the north but their function remains unclear.
The castle walls survive to a height of around two metres, with only the ground floor remaining. Given the lack of an entrance in the surviving walls, it seems likely that the entrance to the keep was on a higher level – probably the first floor.
Although there is no evidence of an entrance surviving today, an account written in 1688 does make mention of a door high in the walls.
"An unhandy place to attack"
The castle's defences appear to have done their job well.
In Haakon's Saga, for example, we learn that it was under siege in 1231 after the murderers of Earl John took refuge there. Click here for details.
Archaeological excavations, in the 1930s, revealed that the stronghold was in use, and maintained, for some time, with at least five external building phases identified. Over time, extensions were added to the main tower and a series of buildings constructed around it.
These external buildings eventually spilled out over the site's defences, which were levelled to make room. This shows that, by this stage of the its development, defence was clearly not as important as it was when the castle was first built.