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The Castle

Castle & Principal Rooms

As the most northerly exlusive-use castle in Scotland and indeed the world, Balfour is a magnificent and unique place to visit.  It is a rare example of a "Calendar House"  - originally planned with 7 turrets, 12 external doors, 52 rooms and 365 window panes and was built in 1845 for David Balfour by the eminent Scottish Baronial architect David Bryce.

First and foremost a family home, this beautifully preserved castle has retained every bit of its original majesty and charm. The two otters that adorn the Balfour family coat of arms are depicted throughout the Castle, set in stone and carved into wood. Shapinsay is also home to wild otters, sometimes spotted on the Castle lawn or seen on the shore.  

Apart from exploring the Castle, Balfour has plenty of activities to offer but if they sound a little energetic then just find a cosy spot and pass the time on otter look out - you may be rewarded.

The Library

No self-respecting castle would be without a classical library and Balfour is no exception.

Sink into a Chesterfield to absorb the wealth of literature.  Sit by the roaring fire with a tipple of your choice from the well-stocked bar.  Allow the woody scent of the aged-oak panels and leather to transport you back in time whilst admiring the sunken gardens.

Alternatively escape through the secret passage to the Drawing Room as the Balfour family once did should they wish respite from opportunistic visitors.

The Gardens & Grounds


The original elements of the formal, sunken Castle gardens were designed by the castle architect David Bryce as were the walled kitchen gardens. The planning and layout of the flowerbeds was designed by Craigie Halkett Inglis of Cramond, Midlothian. 

Recent Additions

Today the sunken gardens are sympathetically enhanced by the addition of a water feature and maze designed by the current owner.  This is a beautiful spot to sit by and admire the magnificent view out to sea.


Orkney is famous for allegedly having no trees. A rural myth evidently given the extensive woodland on the Balfour Estate spanning an area of 30 acres, the largest woodland area in Orkney. 

The trees were planted in the 1800's and continue to be so today, providing acres of natural habitat for birds who thrive here in the absence of any ground predators in Orkney.

Bluebells of Balfour

Carpets of crocus, snowdrops and daffodils abound in early spring while May sees a profusion of bluebells burst into bloom. This spectacular array of these increasingly rare flowers,  heralds the promise of summer.

Glasshouses and Gateways

Balfour boasts a magnificent Victorian conservatory with doors leading from the Drawing Room opening out onto the sunken gardens and a classic view of the west side of the Castle leading the eye to Buchanan's Gate. Also a wonderful place to eat lunch at the giant refectory style table amidst the scent of stephanotis on a balmy summer's day. 

It's hard to imagine you are 59º degrees North when admiring the Castle's sunken gardens , strolling down Ladies Walk or playing croquet on the lawn. Additionally the micro-climate offered by the walled kitchen gardens and protective woodland feels decidedly Mediterranean at times. A glimpse of a wild thistle or an Orkney primrose will remind you of your remote Scottish location.