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House of the Northern Gate
Built by an Admiral, a retreat for the Queen Mother

Situation

The House of the Northern Gate (sometimes called Dwarwick House) sits in a commanding position on Dunnet Head, overlooking the west side of the village and at the southern end of the Dunnet Estate which comprises the majority of Dunnet Head (with the RSPB plot and a neighbouring estate making up the northern and eastern most parts of the headland).

Construction

The house was built by Mr Thomson-Sinclair of Freswick. Upon his death, it passed to his nephew, Admiral Sir Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair, who lived at Dunbeath Castle and who also owned the Freswick and Keiss Estates. Building work began in 1894 and was completed in around 1906. It remained in his ownership until the death of the admiral in 1945, when the crofts on the estate were sold.

The last croft to be sold was that of Mary Anne Calder. Her cottage is now a museum.

The house was the first in the surrounding area to be electrically powered using a steam generator in a stone outbuilding that is still on site. It also pumped water from the nearby Well of Lerygeo to tanks in the roof of the house.

Visit of the Queen Mother

In 1948 the House and Estate were purchased by Commander Clare and Lady Doris Vyner. Lady Vyner was a close friend of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and invited her to stay at the house in 1953 after the death of her husband, King George VI.

 

During her stay, the Queen Mother looked east out of one of the upper floor windows and spied the tower of the recently vacated Barrogill Castle, 3 miles away. Upon enquiring about the castle, a visit was arranged to view it. It was owned by Captain Imbert-Terry and a deal was struck to buy the rather dilapidated castle and Longoe Mains farm. The Queen Mother renamed it the Castle of Mey, its original name.

These events featured on "The Crown" on Netflix in Season 1: Episode 8.

Later owners

Commander Vyner held the House and Estate for 20 years (nb 1947 to 1967) and since then it has been a hotel, a private residence and nearly became a recording studio for Led Zeppelin.

In 2018, the house and estate were purchased by a branch of the Dunnett family whose ancestors left the locality six generations ago. They have refurbished the house and repaired the structure bringing the house and bring the house up to the highest levels of comfort and environmental consciousness. The house is now available for exclusive use and for weddings and makes a stunning setting for family gatherings in the Highlands of Scotland.

An old photo of the House of the Northern Gate, then called Dwarwick House
An old photo of the House of the Northern Gate under construction
The Queen arriving at Dunnet Head on a tender from the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1953
The Queen and Family at Dunnet Head in 1953 with the House of the Northern Gate in the background
A 1970s advert for the House of the Northern Gate when it was a hotel
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