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History North West Castle

North West Passage

Built: 1820

In 1820, Sir John Ross built and developed the original house after returning from the first of several Arctic expeditions to determine the Northwest Passage, and was one of the key individuals behind the discovery of the ice bound trading route, now known as the ‘North West Passage’. For guests at the Castle, Ross commissioned a life-size model of the cabin on his ship, the Victory, so that details of polar navigation could be demonstrated. The cabin structure still serves as part of the hotel bar today.

The Story of North West Castle

Originally built for Sir John Ross, a famous Scottish admiral and Arctic explorer, North West Castle is a 19th-century country house located in Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway, in the south west of Scotland. Replete with original features and architectural nods to its naval history, this country house has been open to the public since 1962 – even becoming the first hotel in the world with an indoor curling ice rink, welcoming curlers from all over the world. 

Hailing from Balsarroch, West Galloway, Sir John Ross built North West Castle in 1820 after returning from the first in a series of Arctic expeditions aiming to solve the question of the Northwest Passage. During his service, Ross was a courageous and daring naval Captain who didn’t always escape expeditions unscathed; in one particular incident, Ross received wounds inflicted by a sabre and bayonet when boarding a Spanish vessel. His groundbreaking work, including the challenge of finding a trade route from Baffin’s Bay through the Arctic and to the Orient, was publicly recognised when he was granted a knighthood in 1834.

In 1860, ownership of North West Castle fell to Reverend Robert Cunningham, who lived in the castle following his retirement as Headmaster of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh and founder Headmaster of the Edinburgh institution for Language and Mathematics, later known as Melville College. An influential figure in Scottish education during the 19th Century who had garnered a reputation as a forward thinking educator, Cunningham’s time at North West Castle also came after his founding of the Free Church of Scotland following the Disruption in May 1843. 

To this day, the quaint charm and character of the North West Castle is greatly indebted to the extraordinary figures who made this castle their home over the past two centuries. In particular, Sir John Ross’ influence looms large in the castle, with a life-size model of his exact cabin on his ship – The Victory – currently forming the structure of the hotel bar, as well as grand windows featuring hinged apertures where telescopes could be inserted, and a Camera Obscura on the roof from which guests can view all ships and vessels from far around.