Dumbarton Castle, Dunbartonshire

Dumbarton Castle guards the entrance to the River Clyde like a kind of mini-Gibraltar. Although not entirely visible in the photograph above there are two sections to the castle, that on the shoreline and that atop the Rock itself. It is said that Dumbarton Rock has the longest history of continuous fortification of any site in Scotland (some say Britain, but that is more debatable).

The earliest records of occupation here date to AD 450 when Saint Patrick wrote to the King of Strathclyde about a raid carried out by the residents of the Rock. By 870 a settlement was thriving here and it was during this period that it was first fortified and became the capital of Strathclyde. The town was known as Alcluith and it survived until the arrival of Viking raiders, Ivar Beinlaus came from the direction of York whilst Olaf the White arrived from Ireland. The two besieged Alcluith for 15 weeks before capturing it, destroying it and taking away any loot they could find and the survivors went to Ireland as slaves.

Strathclyde was a separate Kingdom until it was forced to become part of Scotland by King Malcolm II. In 1222 the Scots built a ‘new castle’ here on the top of the Rock. It was of huge strategic importance as much of the area surrounding it was under the control of the Kings of Norway. Strengthening continued up until 1263 when Alexander III defeated King Håkon of Norway at the Battle of Largs. From this period to around 1600 the castle slips into relative obscurity, although it seems likely that the buildings atop the Rock continued to be of importance and a series of incidents occurred which were pivotal in Scots history.

In 1333 David II sought refuge at Dumbarton. In 1435 James I’s daughter sailed to France from here to marry the Dauphain of France and set up what Scots refer to as the “Auld Alliance”. In 1489 James IV had to besiege the castle twice to quell a rebellion by Lord Darnley. The first siege was a failure but the second was successful. The famous canon Mons Meg (now at Edinburgh Castle) was used during this siege. In 1514 the castle was captured by the Earl of Lennox who actually dug his way into the castle. In 1545 the castle was captured on behalf of the then infant Mary Queen of Scots who was taken here for safety before, like many before her, being taken to France. She returned in 1568 fleeing from Lochleven Castle and then was forced to flee to England, she never returned to Scotland. Mary’s supporters used Dumbarton Castle as a base and in 1571 troops scaled the cliff and took the castle at night.

By the Civil War the castle was considered undefendable and it surrendered without a fight. Over the next hundred years much of the original structure atop the Rock was removed. New fortifications were started during the Jacobite Wars of 1689, 1715 and 1745. In 1735 the Governor’s House and King George’s Battery (foreground in picture) were built. In 1748 a new Magazine was built on the top of the Rock and this survived a direct hit by a shell as the Jacobite rebels were rounded up by British troops.

In 1865 the military left Dumbarton Castle, by this time it was already becoming a tourist attraction. In World Wars I and II the castle was regarrisoned and it was bombed in May 1941 – the last action it has seen. After the War the castle was passed into State ownership and it is today owned by Historic Scotland.

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