Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle is a veteran of the Scottish scenic calendar. That's certainly where I've mostly seen it in the past. That and the occasional tantalising glimpse in the distance from the train just after it's left Stonehaven on the way south. Two weeks or so ago I took the car to work rather than the train, and since I was in good time, I though I would take a small detour and go and see the castle close up (it also saved me driving into the middle of rush hour Aberdeen)

It's pretty easy to see why there's a castle there. It's almost an island, surrounded by cliffs with only a thin link to the rest of the mainland. Defensively, it's a no brainer and as such it's history stretches way back into the murky depths of time. Perhaps it was a bit of peace and quiet, rather than defence, that St Ninian was looking for when he is said to have founded a chapel here in the 5th century (St Ninian was more active in Galloway, a very long way away for those days, and I wonder if it was followers of him rather than the man himself).

The castle website push it further back into history with the following claim, "The importance of the site to the Picts stems from their religion, believed to be akin to Druidism, and which worshiped masculinity, femininity and nature spirits. The site of the Castle and the surrounding area has a strong feminine nature and symbology, which at Dunnottar takes the form of the "green lady". The spirit of the green lady has been seen in the brewery at the Castle.  She is said to be looking for her "lost children" who are the Picts who converted from her religion to Christianity around the 5th Century AD."

It seems likely that there was a fort here by the 7th century as there are mentions in the Annals of Ulster , which seem to cover a bit more than just Ulster, of two sieges here in 681 and 694. It is referred to in the Annals as Dun Foither (the Gaelic for Dunnottar being Dun Fhoithear, or fort on the shelving slope). There was definitely a castle here in 900 when King Donald II was killed here by vikings.

In 1651 the Honours of Scotland (effectively our crown jewels) were hidden in the castle to keep them out of the hands of Oliver Cromwell

It was held by the English during the Wars of Independence and recaptured by William Wallace in 1297. After another brief spell in English hands in 1346, a license to crenellate (effectively, build a castle) was issued by David II  and I think the tower we can see nearest us in this picture is probably the result - built by Sir William Keith, the 1st Earl Marischal.

Dunnottar stayed in the hands of the Keiths until 1715 when the 10th and last Earl Marischal picked the wrong side in the first Jacobite uprising and and had it confiscated. He managed to buy it back 1761 only to sell it again five years later. From this point on the castle fell into disrepair until the current family bought it in 1925.

That's the history for you, here's the pictures.

The other side of the 14th century tower is in the background of this picture. Most of the other buildings on the site are older.

There's just the right amount of the smithy left to visualise how it would have looked, with it's marvellous chimney and arch leading through to where the furnace would have been.

A longer shot of the smithy with the stables on the left hand side.

The chapel sits at the edge of the bulk of the castles buildings, which were built from 16th into the 17th century.

Most of the insides are a shell.

There seems to be a large number of these cosy looking window nooks - probably a great place for a couple of beers and a wee tune of an evening.

Could do with a cushion or two.

The castles current owners have reconstructed a 17th century dining room....

....with a rather attractive wooden ceiling.

There is very little carving around the castle above this fire place can be found the arms of William the 4th Earl Marischal and his wife the countess Elizabeth Seton.

This clock face is to be found in the same room as the above coat of arms. I had a wander round the other side of the wall but no evidence of a place for the mechanism for it.

Labelled with nothing except a safety sign, this must be the castle well - it's certainly a decent size.

There's a good number of these chaps around keeping an eye on castle visitors. I can certainly say that I behaved myself!

Before we go outside again, it would be a shame not to drop in on the brewery. The stack in the middle of the room is a chimney and I imagine that built up pit there is where the fire would be to cook up the brew. They must have made good sized batches of beer considering that the have  stairs to go up in order to stir the brew.

On leaving the castle there is a path which leads a little way round the next headland. The view of the castle gets progressively better as you go round.

An aerial view of the castle snaffled from the castle website.


Dave Wenning said...

Very nice pictures, wonderful place, wonderful country. Thanks for the tour.

Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

That is impressive to say the least. I am left wondering how they got all the materials out there to build it.

The Glebe Blog said...

'Scots wha hae wi Wallace bled'
Good to see oor Willie was in action here.
Interesting to hear that St Ninian founded a chapel up that way. I only recently learned that he's the patron saint of the Shetlands.
According to Bede, the Southern Picts were converted by St. Ninian while the Northern Picts were later converted by St. Columba, it sounds like that's up for debate.When I saw the dining room, i expected to see a cup of tea, were there no refreshments Sandy ?

Michael (Light-In-A-Box) said...

Incredible landscape, could there be a better place to build a castle! Fantastic photos Sandy. : )

Sandy's witterings said...

Thanks Dave

John, Plenty of cheap labour I suspect would be the material transportation method of the day. It's not quite cut off from the mainland so at least a boat journey wouldn't be needed.

Jim, no sign of tea at all! I tend to imagine Columba as North and Ninian as south much like Bede. I'm not sure Bede is completely reliable or that the who converted who situation is all that straight forward. I found Bede by accident last week - I was in Durham Cathedral looking for St Cuthbert (and St Oswalds head of course) and found Bede buried at the other end of the Cathedral.

Michael - certainly is a well placed castle. Especially for being on my route as well as the more obvious castle type reasons (defence etc)

Pam and Wayne said...

Looks like a great place for a stroll with the camera. Great shot of the smithy and the barn, I could almost see people leading horses into it! That's the trick at an older site, trying to imagine it full of people going about their daily lives.

Shundo said...

Looks very much like Tintagel in terms of the landscape. My first thought about the clock was that it was a sundial, but I guess it was inside, so not much use...

Sandy's witterings said...

Shundo, In Scotland there's not much point in putting a sundial outside either for most of the time.