Strangely enough, the elegance of Skibo Castle has roots that stretch back to a ruthless viking. More than 1,000 years ago, Norse invaders led by Sigurd the Mighty established the first encampments here. Sigurd ruled by the sword, but by the late 12th century he and his troops had been banished.
A wealthy bishop moved in and built a castle on the remains of Schytherbolle (pronounced SKE-thur-bowl), the viking settlement that is said to have given Skibo its name.
The castle was passed down from bishop to bishop until the mid-1500s, when a nobleman named John Gray inherited the estate. For the next 400 years, as ownership bounced from one family to another, the castle drifted into disrepair.
Enter Andrew Carnegie, the son of a Scottish weaver, who had moved to the United States at age 13 and, by the time he turned 30, amassed an unfathomable fortune. Carnegie could have bought a vacation home anywhere he pleased. But he settled on Skibo, near the northernmost tip of his homeland, where the climate was unusually warm and dry (for Scotland, that is).
It's easy to understand Skibo's appeal. It stood on thousands of acres of unscarred hunting and fishing grounds. From the castle gates, the land unfolded into ribbons of green. There were glorious streams overflowing with salmon, placid duck ponds, and a soothing view of the Dornoch Firth, an ice-blue inlet from the sea.
Carnegie bought Skibo for 85,000 pounds (around $120,000), but poured another million-plus pounds into improvements. He added rooms (the castle now has more than 200), added windows (there are 400 of those), and built a waterfall in the garden so he could listen to it babble. He installed a game room, a smoking room, a billiard room, a swimming pool. He built a nine-hole golf course that wraps around the castle, the fingers of its fairways visible from several upstairs rooms.