Blog – Cobbie Row’s Castle: Cubbie Row’s Castle: Cobbie Roo’s Castle: Castle of Cubbarrow: Coppirow: Cubbierow: Cubberow: Kolbein Hruga’s Castle.

  • Isle of Wyre,
  • Orkneys
  • Scotland
  • OSGB – HY44179 26296.
  • Canmore ID – 2665.


Castle. Chapel. Norse Estate.

This site, known as the oldest stone castle in Scotland, and sits upon a small hillock on the Isle of Wyre overlooking the waters towards Rousay and Egilsay Islands. Sitting not far off the mainland, the site has extensive views. It is also historically known as a steinkastali – stone castle in old Norse.

The enclosure is oval in shape and measures 28.9m by 22.86m. It was defended by two ditches, a stone wall and a rampart. The ruins are in good condition considering the age of the site. The remains of the wall, in the early twentieth century, measured 1.28m thick and ran for a length of 8.53m.


Plan of Cobbie Row Castle.
After MacKie 1975

There was a central tower measuring 8m square with walls measuring 1.7m thick, of which only the ground floor remains. It is believed that there were at least two storeys and the entrance was accessed by a ladder and a doorway located on the first floor. The ground floor was used for livestock. The interior included wooden ladders which enabled access to all floors.

The ground floor includes a water tank cut into the rock with a depth of 1.2m. It is believed that this may have held fresh fish.

Interior of Cobbie Row’s Castle.
By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The entrance to the enclosure is on the eastern side and there is an access bridge over the ditch which is constructed out of flagstones.

The remaining ditch measures 1.79m wide at the bottom and 1.8m in depth.

Later extensions were added to the site. Archaeologically it has been shown to have had 5 stages of additions and extensions, plus one extension of a much later date –

Phase 1 – Original construction.

Phase 2 – The square tower had at least two storeys added to its north-eastern corner, creating an L-shape.

Phase 3 – The northern side of the stone tower was extended.

Phase 4 – A large building was erected to the western side of the site.

Phase 5 – An extension was added to the eastern walls of the tower.

Phase 6 – At a much later date an extension was added to the south-west of the site and part of the wall was demolished.

With the above additions a courtyard formed in the centre of the site.

  “The fort was reckoned a place of much security….” (MacGibbon, 1887).

The Chapel of St. Mary’s, which sits at the base of the small hillock on which the site is located, was added soon after the original castle was built. It stands in ruins today, but they are well looked after.

Interior of St Mary’s Chapel, Wyre This Romanesque chapel adjacent to Cubbie Roo’s Castle was built in the 12th century. It now lacks a roof, but has been well preserved.
By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The original builder of the castle was a Norse chief by the name of Kolbein Hrứga, who features in the Orkneyinga Saga.

Orkneyinga Saga – “At that time there lived in Wyre in the Orkneys a Norwegian called Kolbein Hrứga, a mighty man. He had a good stone castle built there: that was a safe stronghold” (Anderson 1873).

Kolbein Hrứga was a collector of the Norwegian Kings Taxes in the Orkneys. Torfason tells us that,

“At that time a young man of great spirit lived in Orkney, called Kolbein Ruga, who built a strong castle in the Isle of Weir, and fortified it with great art, so as to stand a siege. His wife was Sterbiorg, sister to Hacou Barn. Their mother was Sigridis, daughter to Herbiorg, the daughter of Earle Paul, the son of Thorfinnus.

 Kolbein Ruga’s children were – Kolbein, surnamed Karl or Charles; Biarnius the poet, who afterwards was Bishop of Orkney; Summarlidius and Aslacus, and a daughter named Frida, all of whom were in great esteem” (Torfason, 1866).

The tower withstood a siege – the murderers of Earl John, the last Scandinavian Earl of Orkney, fled to the castle, and the following describes these events,

Hanefus then returned to Orkney, and seized and old strong castle, built in the Isle of Wier by Kolbein Ruga, and carried into it a great number of cattle for provisions. Then Earle John’s friends, being fired with revenge, besieged the castle. But they had spent a long time to no purpose….” (Torfason, 1866).

Gray (1922) adds,

After the affray they crossed over to Orkney, where they fortified the small but massive castle or tower of Kolbein Hruga or Cobbie Row, in the Island of Vigr or Wyre, now called Veira, near Rousay in Orkney, and provisioned it for a siege, which lasted the whole winter, and was raised only after both sides had come to an agreement that all questions arising out of the earl’s death at Thurso, should be referred, not to the Scottish courts, but to the Norse king, Hakon, in Bergen” (Gray, 1922).

So, having been sieged, the castle never actually fell or was captured – she may be small but she be mighty!

Aerial view of Cobbie Row’s Castle and below, St Mary’s Chapel.
By Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre by Ingeborg Lechner and Robert Vucsina, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Here is a timeline for the site. It is small, as there is little known about its actual chronological history…..

c.1145               Built by Kolbein Hrứga, a Norse leader and Chief, and Collector of the Norwegian Kings Taxes in Orkney.

12th C                Mid to late: The small Chapel of St. Mary’s was built at the base of the small hillock which the castle stands upon.

1230/50             Sieged. Described as being hard to attack.

13th C                The building and the site were extended.

13th-15th C          Dating from: Pieces of chain mail uncovered at the site.

1529                 The site is described by author Jo Ben,

1920’s               Excavated.

1929                 Scheduled.

1930’s               Excavated.

1932                 Guardianship of the Site commenced by Historic Scotland.

1933-1936          The site was cleaned up.

1946                 Field Investigation.

1982                 Field Investigation.

1999                 Scheduling amended.


The Archaeology

The site has been excavated several times. Archaeology has shown there were 5 main phases of additions and extensions, as mentioned above. One of the phases included the addition of an oven and a fireplace.

Artefacts from the site are housed in the Orkney Museum and the National Museum of Scotland. These items include,

  • Brass jetton (coin) dated c.1320-1340 and attributed to King Magnus Ericksson of Norway and Sweden.
  • Bronze chain mail fragment.
  • Pottery sherds.
  • Fragments of bronze.
  • Fragments of copper.
  • A bone handle.
  • An annular brooch.
  • The fragment of a small bell.
  • A section of mail with a buckle.
  • A triangular iron item.

The existence of the crucibles, molds, and fragments of bronze and copper demonstrate metalworking  was undertaken at the site.

Ditch around Cubbie Roo’s Castle A narrow water-filled ditch surrounds the castle mound.
By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0,


The site is associated with the legend of a giant called Cubbie Row who lived near Fritty Hill. He was an angry giant and hurled large stones around Orkney, and especially at his enemy who lived on the Isle of Rousey. It is said that one of these huge stones still shows the fingermarks of this giant!

Further Questions.

  • With so much archaeology being located at the site, can we learn any more about its history from studying these artefacts or would further archaeological investigations enable us to uncover more of its past and add to the timeline?
  • Are we able to source the origins of the legends associated with the site?
  • Are we able to ascertain the type of metal objects being created at the site?
  • Looking at the aerial images, there appears to be a large number of cropmarks – are these associated with the ancient history of the site or are they more modern?
  • On the aerial images along the north and down the eastern side of the site are cropmarks of possible structures. Are these associated with the Medieval period of the castle or were they added later?


References & Bibliography

Anderson. J. 1873. The Orkneyinga Saga. Edmonston & Douglas.

Anderson. J. 1890. Notice of the Excavation of the Brochs of Yarhouse, Brounaben, Bowermadden, Old Stirkoke and Dunbeath, in Caithness, With Remarks on the Period of the Brochs; And an Appendix Containing a Collected List of the Brochs of Scotland, and Early Noticies of Many of Them. Archaeologia Scotica-Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Volume 5, 1890, p. 161.

Barry. G. 1805. History of the Orkney Islands: In which is Comprehended an Account of Their Present as Well as Their Ancient State; Together with the Advantages They Possess for Several Branches of Industry, and the Means by which They May be Improved. George Barry.

Black. A., & Black. C. 1889. Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland. A & C Black.

Brady. C. 1941. [Review of The Orkneyinga Saga, by A. B. Taylor]. The Journal of American Folklore, 54(211/212), 90–92.

Brown. J. 1882. Place Names of Scotland. D. Douglas.

CANMORE. 2023. Wyre, Cubbie Roo’s Castle. Available at

Collingwood. W. G. 1906. A Legend of Shetland From Fljótsdæla Saga. Saga-Book, 5, 272–287.

Douglas Simpson. W. 2019. Exploring Castles. Taylor & Francis.

Fergusson. R. M. 1883. Rampling sketches in the Far North, and Orcadian Musings. Simpkin, Marshall.

Gray. J. 2022. Sutherland and Caithness in Saga-Time; Or, The Jarls and The Freskyns. DigiCat.

Gravett. C. 2012. Norman Stone Castles: The British Isles 1066–1216. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Groome. F. H. 1882. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical. Volume 1. Grange Publishing Works.

Historic Environment of Scotland. 2023. Cubbie Roo’s Castle and St Mary’s Chapel. Available at

HMSO. 1930Statutory Rules and Orders Other Than Those of a Local, Personal, Or Temporary Character. His Majesty’s Stationary Office.

Lepage. J-D. G. G. 2011. British Fortifications Through the Reign of Richard III: An Illustrated History. McFarland.

MacGibbon. D., & Ross. T. 1887. The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth Century. Volume 1. David Douglas.

MacKie. D. W. 1975. Scotland: An Archaeological Guide: From the Earliest Times to the Twelfth century AD. Noyes Press.

Moore. D. W. 2011. The Other British Isles: A History of Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides, Isle of Man, Anglesey, Scilly, Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands. McFarland.

Muir. T. 2014. Orkney Folk Tales. History Press.

Oram. Prof. R. 2012. The Scottish Tower-house Tradition. The Archaeological & Historical Section of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science, Minutes of the 64th A.G.M., held at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, on Wednesday March 14, 2012. Available at

Peterkin. A. 1822. Notes on Orkney and Zetland: Illustrative of the History, Antiquities, Scenery, and Customs of Those Islands. John Moir.

Porter. J. 1998. The Folklore of Northern Scotland: Five Discourses on Cultural Representation. Folklore, 109, 1–14.

Simpson. W. D. 1960. Castle Sween. Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society, 15(1), 3–14.

Simpson. W. D. 1966. Skipness Castle. Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society, 15(3), 87–109.

Torfason. Þormóður. 1866. Ancient History of Orkney, Caithness, & the North. Peter Reid.

Wallace. J. 1883. A Description of the Isles of Orkney. William Brown.


Image References

Cubby_Roo’s_Castle. By s allison, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Cubbie_Roo’s_Castle, Aerial view of Cobbie Row’s Castle and below, St Mary’s Chapel. By Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre by Ingeborg Lechner and Robert Vucsina, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Cubbie_Roo’s_Castle, Ruins of Cobbie Row’s Castle. By Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre by M J Richardson, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Interior_of_Cubbie_Roo’ Interior of Cobbie Row’s Castle. By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Cubbie_Roo’s_Castle, Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre Or ‘Cobbie Row’s Castle’, as shown on the information sign. The site takes its name from the giant of Orkney folklore. The structure is believed to have been built around 1145 AD. By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Interior_of_St_Mary’s_Chapel, Interior of St Mary’s Chapel, Wyre This Romanesque chapel adjacent to Cubbie Roo’s Castle was built in the 12th century. It now lacks a roof, but has been well preserved. By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Ditch_around_Cubbie_Roo’ Ditch around Cubbie Roo’s Castle A narrow water-filled ditch surrounds the castle mound. By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Cubbie_Roo’s_Castle, Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre. By Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre by M J Richardson, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Cubbie_Roo’s_Castle, Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre. By Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre by M J Richardson, CC BY-SA 2.0,


2 Comments on “Blog – Cobbie Row’s Castle: Cubbie Row’s Castle: Cobbie Roo’s Castle: Castle of Cubbarrow: Coppirow: Cubbierow: Cubberow: Kolbein Hruga’s Castle.

  1. Hard to get to unfortunately. Spent a week on Orkney once and failed to get there. V.v.v.v.v good article.

    • Hi Kelly,
      Great you tried to visit the site, sorry to hear it is so hard to get to. That can also be a good thing sometimes, helps to preserve the site. But understandably thoroughly annoying! So glad you enjoyed the blog 🙂

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