Less than two miles from the town of Stonehaven, in a most spectacular location, stands Dunnottar Castle, on rocky cliffs surrounded on three sides by the North Sea.
I must say, I was surprised. Dunnottar took my breath away when I visited. It wasn’t the castle but the imposing, impregnable location with the stunning views out to the Sea.
Dunnottar was originally a Pictish fortress, and it later became home to one of the most powerful families in the country, the Earls Marischal. It was constructed in 1392 by Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland. Between 1580 and 1650 the Marischals converted the castle, with a range of buildings around the north east top of the rock
Dunnottar Castle has been prominent in Scottish History.
It was held by the English in 1297, and recaptured by William Wallace, who reputedly burned the English garrison of 4,000 soldiers alive inside the church. But the most valiant story is perhaps that a small garrison defended the Castle and held out against the powerful Oliver Cromwell’s army for a full eight months before finally falling.
Cromwell’s forces had laid siege to the Castle in 1651, in a bid to capture the Scottish Regalia. The story goes that the small group of defenders of the castle managed to lower the crown jewels down the cliffs to a local woman, Anne Lindsay, who then successfully smuggled them through enemy lines hidden under her petticoats.
The Crown, Sceptre and Sword now have pride of place in Edinburgh Castle.
In it’s day the Castle has been host to many notable guests including Charles II, Mary Queen of Scots and of course William Wallace. It was abandoned in 1715 when the last Earl Marischal was convicted of treason and executed for his part in the Jacobite Rising. His estates were seized by the government, including Dunnottar Castle.
The buildings were neglected until the 1st Viscountess Cowdray repaired the Castle in 1925. Eleven different buildings comprise Dunnottar, and most dominant is the L-plan Tower House, or Keep. Other buildings include lodgings, barracks and stables.
Like most castles, there are tales of ghosts …..
One story is that of the Green Lady. It’s been said that her spirit has been seen in the brewery at the castle, looking for her lost children. Apparently her family are Picts from the 5th century who converted from her religion to Christianity.
The Castle also found cinematic fame after being used as the location for the 1990 film version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson. The name Dunnottar is derived from the Old Scot words “Dun O Tir” which means Fort in the Highland Low Country. With the spectacular scenery around the Castle, it will provide you with an unforgettable experience, and during sunrise or sunset it can be simply magical.
To make the most of your visit you should allow at least two hours.
There’ a Car park where you can leave the car and walk to the Castle, but a flight of steep steps means disabled access is not easy. The ruins are spread over three acres, surrounded by sheer cliffs with a 50 metre drop to the North Sea below. The Castle is run by the National Trust for Scotland and attracts over 40,000 visitors every year.
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