Muness Castle on the island of Unst (Grid reference HP 629 011) is the most northerly castle in the British Isles and like Scalloway Castle it was not built by a Shetlander, but by an incoming nobleman. It was Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie, <ref>a half-brother to Earl Robert Stewart by his mother, Euphemia Elphistone, who had married John Bruce of Cultmalindie after her liaison with King James V</ref>who built the castle in 1598. After that he was known as Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie and Muness.
Muness Castle is a very fine, if not to say exceptionally fine, piece of architecture, a beautifully proportioned fortified residence, a bit small compared with other castles of its time but with its originally three storeys well-suited for the needs of a laird and offering enough space for his family – the once existing outbuildings which served the castle are all gone.
The work at Muness Castle was directed by the same Andrew Crawford, the Earl's master of works, who built Scalloway Castle a couple of years later. That is why we see the same kind of "handwriting": A first of all very "functionally" designed building with only a little of decoration, but these carried out in an absolutely perfect way like the proportions of the windows, their frames and those of the gunloops and shotholes or the corbelled footings of the turrets at the east and the west corners of the main building. The most impressive decoration is the armorial panel with the crest of Laurence Bruce and his initials and a little poem right above the entrance. With the little poem, Laurence Bruces "prays his heirs and offspring to help and not to hurt this work" <ref>"List ye to knaw yis building quha began, Laurence the Bruce he was that worthy man, Quha ernestly his airis and ofspring prayis To help and not to hurt this vork alwayis. The Zeir Of God 1598."</ref> – and indeed it was the Bruce's son Andrew who cared for and completed the castle.
The basic design of the castle is a so-called Z-plan towerhouse, an elonged rectangled main block (22.3 by 7.9 m) with round towers at the north and south corners – a design quite familiar by the end of the 16th century and similar to that of Noltland Castle, Westray (Orkney). The difference is just that we have two squared towers at Noltland but two circular towers at Muness, of which the north tower is slightly smaller than the south tower.
The entrance to the castle opens to the ground floor. The door we see today was taken from a derelict farmstead in Lund, but it may well have belonged to the castle before. As at Scalloway Castle the ground floor (including the basements of the towers) houses the kitchen and a number of storage rooms. The kitchen has a great fireplace into which a round baking oven was incorporated. There is no well inside the castle, but a sink in one corner of the kitchen.
The first floor can be reached by a spacious main stair directly from the entrance as well as by a smaller secondary stair which lead upstairs from one of the storage rooms. Both the staircases open to the great hall, a big rectangular room in the centre of the first floor. Opposite the stairs there is a huge fire-place that incorporates a small alcove where the salt could be stored in dry conditions. Next to both sides of the hall there are comfortable private apartments which include the floor space of the towers and which have their own fire places.
From the northern appartment a private round staircase leads to the second floor of which only little remains. But we can see from what remains that the second floor was divided into three rooms as well as the first floor. Different from the layout of the second floor is the fact that the second floor had small turrets (one at the west and one at the east corner of the main block) of which only the corbelled footings survive. The roof was probably gabled but disappeared as did most of the walls of the second floor. The stones were used to build the modern enclosure of the castle we can see today.
The castle was attacked and burned by a band of privateers in August 1627 and whether the castle was ever repaired or not is doubtful; nevertheless we know that it was used as a storage for the salvage of the Dutch East Indiaman Rijnenburg which was wrecked in Baltasound in 1733.
A special aerial survey of the site recently (2003) showed some structures which might be the remains of a formal garden within a rectilinear enclosure and internal rectilinear subdivisions defined by low banks lying to the SW of the castle.
The castle is now in care of Historic Scotland and is open to visitors. Torches are provided for those wishing to explore the dark passageways and rooms of the ground floor.
Inside the Castle