In Caithness, situated on a narrow promontory surrounded on three sides by precipitous sea cliffs, stands the castle of Old Wick.
Popularly known as the ‘Auld Man’ it consists of a featureless, unvaulted tower with seven foot thick walls fronted by a rampart and ditch.
Dating this primitive castle has long been problematic but it has generally been associated with the Norse earls of Orkney suggesting a 12th century date. This would rank it alongside the earliest castles in Scotland such as Cubbie Roo’s in Orkney.
This has not gone unchallenged, however, as its first known owner was Reginald Cheyne in the mid-14th century – a full 200 years later!
All this might be about to change. Thanks to a grant from the Castle Studies Trust, Historic Environment Scotland will be carrying out dendrochronological analysis on a fragment of wood with has survived within a joist socket on the upper floor. Watch the Castles Studies Trust YouTube video showing the piece of timber having successfully been extracted.
This timber, believed to be oak, has been transported to a laboratory in Edinburgh and the result is expected this autumn. You can follow the team's activities on the Castles Studies Trust blog page.
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.