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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Castle of Mey: The Queen Mother's retreat
Castle of Mey
Renovation work is underway at the Castle of Mey
The Queen Mother rescued a dilapidated castle and turned it into a Highland home where local people were made welcome.

The Queen Mother's Highland retreat was more of a home than a palace.

She brought the dilapidated Castle of Mey back to life after falling in love with the building in the early 1950s.

The people of Caithness still talk fondly of the evenings they spent being entertained by their Royal host.


It needs to be open to the public, but it also needs to live and the trustees will be looking for the best way to fulfil that twin mission in the years ahead

Viscount John Thurso
She was a regular visitor to the area over several decades, and her status as an honorary Scot was cemented even further in 1990 when she was given the freedom of the county.

Although she was born in Hertfordshire, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon came from a family with strong Scottish roots.

Her love of the country was nurtured as she spent her childhood summers at Glamis in Angus.

She became a regular visitor to Caithness after falling in love with a run-down property then known as Barrogill Castle.

The area's MP Viscount John Thurso explained that the Queen Mother came across the building while visiting a friend in the area while she was in mourning following the death of her husband, King George VI.

Repair work

"She saw this building and, curious, she came down the drive and found it with the family in one room and, I think, the sheep in the other room," he said.

"She fell in love with it. It is the most beautiful, pretty small castle, very typical of what we had around Caithness in days gone by.

"She determined to rescue it, which she did."

The castle was in need of major repair work after 120mph gales had lifted its lead roof and rolled it up "like a can".


The Queen Mother as a young woman
BBC News Online looks back over the remarkable life and times of the Queen Mother


The Queen Mother regularly travelled north to supervise the work, eventually moving in and restoring the ancient name, the Castle of Mey.

She owned the property until 1996, when it was handed over to a charitable trust, along with its 2,000 acres of land and a herd of prize-winning Aberdeen Angus cattle.

Lord Thurso said: "It was the only house she owned herself and it was never a Royal residence before that.

"It was much more of a home than a palace."

Work is now ongoing in a fresh effort to refurbish the building, with its dramatic views over the Pentland Firth.

Lord Thurso said the aim was to have the castle ready so it could be opened to the public in August.

'Tremendous house'

"One of the things that we feel very strongly about, and I think Her Majesty also felt strongly about, is that it has been a wonderfully warm and hospitable home," he said.

"Coming here of an evening to be a guest of Queen Elizabeth was great fun and it was a tremendous house, and we want to preserve that feeling.

"We don't want it simply to become in aspic, a kind of museum.


The Caithness people feel that they have lost one of their own family

John Young
"It needs to be open to the public, but it also needs to live and the trustees will be looking for the best way to fulfil that twin mission in the years ahead."

Former Caithness provost John Young said: "We have had many happy evenings here in the past when she had what she called her Caithness friends over in the evening.

"It is going to be a very sad Castle of Mey this year without Her Majesty."

The Queen Mother became a familiar and well-loved member of the local community, organising ceilidhs at the castle and making an annual visit to the local artists' exhibition.

The affection in which she was held became tangible in 1990, as Mr Young recalls.

'Deeply moved'

"Her Majesty came to Caithness for 50 years and on the occasion of her 90th birthday the district council decided to confer upon her the freedom of Caithness," he said.

"It was quite obvious at the ceremony that she was quite deeply moved at being given the freedom of the county that she had more or less adopted.

"She was accepted as one of ourselves and that's a great honour in itself, I can assure you.

"The Caithness people feel that they have lost one of their own family."

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Caithness MP Viscount John Thurso
"We don't want it simply to become a kind of museum"

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