Clan Sinclair itinerary

The Sinclairs can trace their history back to the early Middle Ages, at which time they were a powerful family with an active role in The Crusades and the power politics of the time. As Earls of Orkney, Caithness and Shetland, the family was second in importance only to the Scottish monarch.

This six-day itinerary focuses on the clan's intimate connections with the far north of Scotland and the islands that lie beyond its rugged coastline.

  • Looking across the grounds towards the Castle of Mey
    Castle of Mey
  • The sun rises over Castle Sinclair, Caithness
    Castle Sinclair
  • The ornate stone carved Prentice Pillar of Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin
    The ornate interior of Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin
  • Looking onto Skara Brae at the beach of the Bay of Skaill
    Skara Brae
  • St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
    St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

Arrive in the beautiful city of Edinburgh where there are plenty of places to visit for those keen to explore their Scottish heritage.

Be sure not to miss Edinburgh Castle in the heart of the city which boasts commanding views across Edinburgh, of if time allows, stop by the Scottish Genealogical Society library for an excellent range of information to help you during your ancestral research. Appointments are not necessary, but a small fee does apply for non-members.

South of the city, head for the nearby village of Roslin and the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel. This small but architecturally stunning church was founded in 1446 by William Sinclair, a grandson of Sir Henry Sinclair and the last Sinclair Earl of Orkney.

A three-hour drive north from Edinburgh, through a landscape that moves seamlessly from lush woodland to wild moorland to gentle valley, takes you to Inverness, the beautiful capital of the Highlands.

For a truly atmospheric experience, make the short journey east from Inverness to the battleground of Culloden where, in April 1746, 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie's Jacobite rising was crushed by government forces. Although 500 men from the Sinclair clan took arms they disbanded when news reached them of the prince’s defeat.

Drive further northwards through an untamed landscape to Caithness on the far northern tip of Scotland. While en route, try to find time for a visit to Helmsdale, Lybster, Keiss and Wick, all places with Sinclair associations.

At the northern end of Sinclair's Bay, near the area's principal town of Wick, lies the dramatic clifftop ruins of Keiss Castle. In Wick itself, you'll find an excellent museum and archive run by the Wick Society.

The ruins of Castle Sinclair at Girnigoe, about a mile from Wick, is another must-see destination and arrangements for access can be made through the Sinclair Study Centre based at Noss Head Lighthouse.

Follow the coastline west until you reach the Castle of Mey, overlooking the Pentland Firth. This was the much-loved retreat of HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and was built between 1566 and 1572 by George, 4th Earl of Caithness, who passed it to his second son, William Sinclair. On his death a short time later, it went to the third son, George Sinclair, who founded the family of the Sinclairs of Mey. The castle and its grounds are open to the public.

It’s now time to cross to the Sinclair homeland on Orkney and the ferry trip from Scrabster on the mainland to Orkney takes 90 minutes. An inspirational Orcadian destination to explore first is St Magnus Cathedral.

Towering high above the town of Kirkwall, the cathedral was inherited by Henry Sinclair in 1379. Be sure to visit the Bishops’ and Earls’ Palaces, which the Sinclairs captured from the Stewarts on the instruction of the king. The Sinclairs eventually relinquished the earldom of Orkney in 1471, as part of a marriage dowry to King James III.

Take a day to explore Orkney's prehistoric past. Highlights include Skara Brae, the 5,000-year-old village on the west coast of the Orkney Mainland, and Maeshowe, a Neolithic chambered tomb raided by Norsemen.

Head to the Orkneyinga Saga Centre in Orphir for an overview of the island's Norse history and try to spot the Sinclairs that appear in the family tree illustration.

Time to head back to the mainland for your journey southwards to Inverness and, perhaps a visit to the nearby village of Newtonmore, where you'll find the fascinating Highland Folk Museum which explores more than 400 years of Highland life.

Enjoy a leisurely drive back to Edinburgh, savouring the magnificent Highland scenery en route.