Balfour Castle – Shapinsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland

In the Middle of the Ocean –  Wildlife, a Victorian Castle, and Farm-Fresh Meals

The small, fertile island of Shapinsay, one of the northernmost of the sixty- seven islands that make up Scotland’s remote Orkney archipelago, is even today given over mostly to cattle and sheep rearing and is small enough to walk around in one day. Here you can get away from Wi-Fi and tax collectors and reduce stress to zero; seal and bird watching (with some 300 species identified in the islands) are the highlight of the day, and your background music is the bleating of lambs and the sound of seagulls against the ocean waves.

The seven-spired Balfour Castle is a land mark of the windblown Orkney Islands. Built in 1848 around an existing 1793 house by Shipinsay’s most important benefactor, Balfour Castle was purchased in 1960 by a Polish officer, Captain Zawadski. His Scottish widow and her family run it today as a distinguished home and country manor for twelve lucky guests. Meals are ample, simple, and delicious, with vegetables from the castle’s gardens, locally grown meats and shellfish from the island’s waters (guests are not likely to recall ever tasting sweeter lobster or scallops) and served when the gong is sounded from some­where deep in the castle.

If there’s a TV on the premises no one ever requests Cliffs of the Orkney Islands it, and the only newspaper on the island is the Orcadian, which comes out every Thursday. The only pub in Shapinsay, found in the castle’s old gatehouse, gives a unique spin to “island nightlife.”

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