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 of the Northern Gate (sometimes called Dwarwick 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.

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.

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 begun a process of refurbishment to repair the structure of the house and bring the house up to the highest levels of comfort and environmental consciousness.
 

The Crown - Netflix

The House of the Northern Gate is visited by the Queen Mother in "The Crown" (© Netflix) though the house shown (Series 1, Episode 8) is a different house

Queen: Who is it you're staying with?

Queen Mother: The Vyners. Up in Caithness at the Northern Gate. Dunnet Head

Queen: Goodness. That's the end of the earth!

Queen Mother: Yes. A chance to really get away from it all.