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Q and A

The Clan Sinclair Trust and Noss Head


  • What is the Clan Sinclair Trust?
  • Who are the directors of the Trust?
  • What are the Trust's objectives?
  • What has the Trust achieved?
  • Has the history of the castle changed?
  • How important is the castle?
  • What further work is required?

  • What is Noss Head?
  • What is the history of Noss Head?
  • What is the Clan Sinclair Library and Study Centre?
  • Who owns the books?
  • Are library books and other items for sale?
  • What is the future of the Library?
  • Is access to Noss Head limited?
  • How does one gain access to see or research in the library?
  • What is the Knights Templar connection with the Sinclairs and Noss Head?
  • What is the role of Ian Sinclair?

    What is the Clan Sinclair Trust?

    The Trust, a Limited Company with Charitable Status, was set up in 1998 by:

    • Niven Sinclair;
    • Ian Sinclair;
    • Euan Sinclair;
    • The Earl of Caithness; and
    • The Viscount Thurso (aka John Thurso MP).

    Who are the directors of the Trust?

    The Earl of Caithness, Viscount Thurso and Isla St Clair are the current directors/trustees.

    What are the Trust's objectives?

    The primary aim of the Trust is to preserve and promote, for the benefit of the public, Sinclair Girnigoe Castle in Caithness.

    It is allowed to do other things ancillary to this. It had no money and was not funded by any endowment. The Earl of Caithness, Chief of the Sinclairs, had inherited the Castle from his father and donated it to the Trust for the public benefit in early 2000.

    What has the Trust achieved?

    • The work at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe has been a huge success story. Since 2000 the Trust has raised over 600,000 from businesses, foundations and individuals around the world. This money has all been spent on works on the castle in fulfilment of the Trust's objectives. The works include an access road for vehicles to the castle;
    • excavation and recording of all of the outer bailey or ward to last use level ;
    • consolidation of the chimney stack, the North West tower as well as some internal walls and stonework;
    • erection of safety barriers
    • creation of a new path to the castle; and
    • construction of a timber bridge.

    All this means that safe and good access has been provided for the public. This has been a massive and historic transformation. The archaeological work has resulted in a substantial re-appraisal of the history of the period during which the castle was last occupied. .The work continues and the Trust is very grateful to all its donors for helping it to start to meet its objectives.

    Has the history of the castle changed?

    Most of what is written in books until 2002 has now been proven to be inaccurate. As a result of the archaeological work and examination of the family papers a more accurate history of not only when and how the castle was built but also how it was used is being revealed A book will be written when all the work has been completed. One example of recent discoveries is that we now know it was always one castle (Sinclair Girnigoe) not two (Sinclair & Girnigoe) which has been the accepted history for 300 years and which we thought before the Trust was formed.

    How important is the castle?

    The castle is listed in the Scotland as an Scheduled Monument, which is the highest level of protection for a decaying structure. In 2002, the castle was also listed by The World Monuments Fund in their Watch List. This List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World is published every two years. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is the only castle in Scotland to be so listed. The archaeological work has revealed a number of unique features for a castle of its period – late 1400’s to late 1600’s.

    What further work is required?

    The excavation of part of the moat needs to be completed and there is more consolidation work required in the outer bailey or ward. A new bridge is necessary to gain access across the inner moat so that excavation and consolidation work can be undertaken in the inner bailey and tower house.


    What is Noss Head?

    Noss Head is next to the castle and comprises a lighthouse (which still belongs to the Northern Lighthouse Board), two houses, a range of outbuildings and about 35 acres of pasture land. The estate was acquired by the Clan Sinclair Trust in 2006.

    What is the history of Noss Head?

    The property was once part of the huge estate belonging to the Earls of Caithness. In the mid 1800’s it was acquired by the Northern Lighthouse Board which then disposed of everything except for the lighthouse after it was converted to being automatic from being manned. Ian Sinclair and Joan Burton formed a company, Noss Head Estates Ltd (NHEL), to buy Noss Head when the then owners wanted to sell it in 1998. NHEL was purchased by the Clan Sinclair Trust in 2006.

    Purchase of Noss Head by the Trust in 2006

    When Ian Sinclair and Joan Burton wanted to dispose of part of Noss Head they asked to Niven Sinclair for advice. He kindly agreed to help fund the purchase of it by the Trust, providing it was a purchase of the whole property. Independent valuations were obtained and after lengthy negotiations (and robust deliberations amongst the trustees) the sale/purchase terms were agreed in line with the independent valuations The purchase by the Trust of NHEL was completed in 2006. The donors for this purpose, Sandy Pershing and Niven Sinclair, attached no conditions to their generous donations other than the money was to be used to buy Noss Head – which it was.

    By structuring the sale and purchase agreement as a purchase of the company rather the property, there was no capital gain and therefore no capital gains tax liability for the selling shareholders. Since the Trust bought a company it was able to secure a discount on the original sale price. There will of course be a capital gain and consequential tax liability should NHEL ever dispose of part or the whole of the estate, so any tax liability is merely deferred rather than avoided altogether. That said, disposal is not envisaged, so therefore the structuring of the deal was not only completely legal but also a prudent and efficient use of donated funds.

    Niven Sinclair was kept fully informed throughout the negotiations and he knew the Trust was buying a company and that Ian Sinclair (a former director of NHEL) was to have a lifetime occupancy right (known in Scotland as a 'liferent') on Clan Sinclair House as apart of the non-negotiable conditions of sale. Ian Sinclair would also be allowed to continue to use the outbuilding as a Preceptory for Templar Meetings, which he had done from time to time prior to the time of the sale, for up to four occasions a year after notification to the Trustees.

    He has no control over any other buildings although, with permission, he does use other outbuildings to store goods which he uses for the benefit of the Trust. Ian Sinclair has continued to allow his house to be used as the Library and Study Centre.

    What is the Clan Sinclair Library and Study Centre?

    Because of the derelict nature of the pair of semi-detached lighthouse keepers’ cottages Ian Sinclair and Joan Burton originally lived in the house called Laird's Retreat while these cottages were being made fit for habitation by being converted into one house to be called Clan Sinclair House. At about this time Niven Sinclair asked Ian Sinclair to house some of his books at Noss Head as his plans to do so at Roslin had fallen apart and he had been refused permission for a library there. Ian Sinclair agreed that what was to be his dining room in Clan Sinclair House would also be adapted to house the books at the same time as he was refurbishing the house for Joan’s and his use. At his own expense he provided the shelving for the books. A spare bedroom would also serve as the office. Clan Sinclair Trust rented this space for a time and the resulting potential conflict of interest (as owner and trustee) caused Ian to resign from the Trust in an honourable discharge.

    Thus there are two rooms in Clan Sinclair House at Noss Head which Ian Sinclair allows to be used for the housing of the books and other material belonging to the Trust but which always have been, and are still, used for domestic purposes as well. Ian decided to call his dining room the Niven Sinclair Library in honour of its patron. Niven Sinclair formally opened it at the Clan Gathering in 2000 after Ian Sinclair and Joan Burton had moved in. Niven Sinclair and The Friends of Rosslyn also provided some items and books that could be sold to help Ian with its running costs. The Trust therefore took over an existing agreement. In 2008 Niven Sinclair decided for personal reasons that he no longer wished his name to be associated with his great library so it has been renamed the Clan Sinclair Library. The original arrangement was for people to come and research if they wanted to by appointment and that has always been maintained.

    Who owns the books?

    The Clan Sinclair Trust does. After some of Niven Sinclair’s books were transferred to Noss Head in 2000 other people started to donate books to the Trust. In 2001 Niven Sinclair donated his books in the Niven Sinclair Library to the Trust and Ian Sinclair kindly agreed to continue to keep the books in his house. Niven Sinclair continued to donate books to the Trust as and when he wanted to. Unfortunately he did not always confer with Ian Sinclair or the Trustees when making his purchases to see if there might already be a copy of the book in the library. This led to a situation where there was more than one copy of the same book. It was agreed that the less good ones would be sold. Many friends of the library have continued to donate books, but Niven Sinclair remains the largest donor. There are now 2227 books recorded and on shelves in the library and 242 books on shelves in the office and in the safe, a small number of non valuable books are stored in boxes, correctly logged and in a temperature controlled environment as advised by the Head Librarian of Wick and Thurso libraries. Besides the history books and novels there are also papers and documents stored in the archive at Clan Sinclair House.

    Are library books and other items for sale?

    In line with established practice a very limited number of duplicate copies of the library books have been for sold and/or are for sale. Other items and books, formerly belonging to Niven Sinclair or the Friends of Rosslyn, having been gifted for sale, have been sold in order to raise money and offset the upkeep expenses.

    What is the future of the Library?

    The main objective of the Trust is the castle but the trustees, with Ian’s help, have maintained public access to the library. Niven Sinclair was informed that space for books running out in 2006 and that it had run out in 2007 but he continued to send books until September 2008. Niven Sinclair also knew the Trust had no money to extend the library and given his solemn promises of the rest of his personal library and that of other donors, the full extent and specification of a future library could not be gauged without his input. There were discussions about plans to possibly incorporate it in a visitor/interpretation centre to be built in due course. Given it is not ideal to have a library in domestic accommodation the current situation would in any case have to change.

    Is access to Noss Head limited?

    Access is always available as the Northern Lighthouse Board and Coastguard must have 24 hour access to their assets on the estate every day and the gates are never locked.

    How does one gain access to see or research in the library?

    One has to remember that the library is still housed in Ian Sinclair’s home. Thus, although access is not denied whenever possible, it is best to contact Ian Sinclair in advance on + 44 (0) 1955 606700. Ian Sinclair regularly shows visitors around the castle, library and land - even including once in the middle of his birthday party when some people arrived without notice. Although the Library is housed in Ian Sinclair’s home it is open much more often than it would be if it was in a self contained building.

    What is the Knights Templar connection with the Sinclairs and Noss Head?

    There is a lot of myth and some fact about the Sinclair and original Knights Templar. Nowadays a number of Sinclairs, like others, all around the world have been and are Knights Templar Societies. Ian Sinclair is one and founded the Prince Henry St. Clair Preceptory and Commandary in 2001 to which Niven Sinclair kindly donated a number of items. At that time Ian Sinclair was associated with another group of Knights Templar, who had their Preceptory headquarters at Rosslyn Chapel, known as Militi Templi Scotia (MTS). In May 2004 that association terminated and Ian Sinclair set up his own group called Scottish Knight Templars in May 2004.

    Both Niven Sinclair and Ian Sinclair advised Andrea and Mark Pinkham (the latter has Sinclair ancestry) on the setting up of the International Order of Gnostic Templars. This meeting was recorded on audio tape. Ian Sinclair is neither a member nor the Grand Prior of the IOGT but agreed to become its advisor. The IOGT have by invitation of Ian Sinclair, visited Noss Head on four occasions since 2004 and since 2006 in accordance with the terms of the sale agreement to the Trustees.

    The Clan does not endorse any organisation or sect and considers that people’s beliefs and faith are for them to decide.

    From the foregoing it should be clear that Ian's Sinclair's Templar pursuits at Noss Head take place within the agreements signed by the Trust and Ian Sinclair. Ian Sinclair's Templar activities and beliefs are neither in opposition to any goal of the Clan Sinclair Trust nor to the broader organizations that make up the modern Clan Sinclair. Any notion that Templar activities at Noss Head are otherwise is completely unsupportable. In any event, the Trust would be unable to take any action in terms of Scots Law unless it could be proved that such activities produced material detriment to the value and enjoyment of the property, which is very tenuous to establish let alone prove in a court of law.

    What is the role of Ian Sinclair?

    Ian Sinclair has no official role in the Trust but, at no cost to the Trust, he has not only continued to maintain much of the estate and keep the Library open but has worked tirelessly to help the trustees with the preservation and consolidation works at the castle. The Trust is very grateful for all Ian Sinclair’s time and commitment which is equivalent to an annual donation of some substance. In due course the Trust will probably have to consider direct employment of a caretaker or entering into a facilities management agreement with a property maintenance company. The cost of either of these outcomes will have to be met from money raised by the Trust.

    MC 16 January 2010