Thursday, 20 May 2010

Dumbarton and Corgarff Castles

This is the second of the castle series .. two more from Scotland .. I think in future I’ll mix and match a bit .. adding a little magic dust, a few nuances to tickle the interest .. and here’s ...

Dumbarton Castle, which has as prolific a history – but I have less information on this castle ... you may be pleased to hear! Dumbarton guards the northern shore of the River Clyde, another of the great firths cutting into the heartland of Scotland, this time to the west of Glasgow.

Its recorded history reaches back 1,500 years, when Saint Patrick wrote a letter to King Ceretic of Alt Clut (‘Rock of the Clyde”), later becoming know by the Gaelic name Dun Breatann, “Fortress of the Britons”, from which the name Dumbarton is derived.

Dumbarton Castle above - picture from Places to Visit in Scotland
Dumbarton Castle and lime kiln in 1800

Historically it has been a site of strategic importance since the Iron Age and very possibly the Bronze Age before it, pre 600 BC. The Romans were known to have traded here, St Patrick came from Ireland in the Dark Ages; the Norse legends mention the castle; the Vikings defeated it in 870 AD – the Norse King Olaf looted the town and its inhabitants, returning to the Viking city of Dublin with two hundred ships full of slaves and looted treasures; after the Vikings, the Picts (a confederation of Celtic tribes around 1,000 – 1100s AD) laid siege to the settlement.

When the recent castle was first built in the 1220s, the Norwegian frontier lay just 10 miles (16 km) downriver, with Dumbarton serving as a Border stronghold. In medieval Scotland Dumbarton was an important royal castle and sheltered various royals at difficult times, including Robert the Bruce’s son and later the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. The castle provided an important back door in and out of Scotland to Ireland, but more importantly to France and the European continent.

Today all visible trace of the Dark-Age Clyde Rock, its buildings and defences, have gone with precious little remaining of the medieval castle. The fortifications of the 17th and 18th centuries survive, and illustrate a painful struggle by military engineers to adapt an intractable site into contemporary defensive needs.

Erskine Bridge, Dumbarton and the Firth of Clyde, looking west

Dumbarton Rock is everything one imagines a might Dark-Age stronghold to have been. The volcanic rock rises up almost sheer from the murky waters that swirl around its base, and from its twin peaks – White Tower Crag and The Beak – you can see for miles, hence why it was chosen all those centuries ago. There are 557 steps to climb to the top?!

The third castle, Corgarff, is a medieval tower house surrounded by a distinctive star-shaped perimeter wall, set in the lonely moorland, on the quickest route between the two great river highways of the Dee and the Spey, so essential in the Dark and Middle Ages.

The tower was built as an impressive fortified home for the Forbeses, built around 1550, who were supporters of the future James VI of Scotland (and as, he was to become, James I of Britain), while their nearest clan neighbours, the Gordons, supported the claim of Mary to the Scottish throne. Some serious feuding ensued.

Corgarff Castle

After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the arrival of the redcoats resulted in the tower being gutted and transformed into soldiers’ barracks; this was when the star-shaped wall was built giving Corgarff its unrivalled appearance. For a hundred years or so, the redcoats patrolled the area hunting down Jacobite sympathisers and latterly helping the excisemen stamp out the illegal production and smuggling of whisky.

The castle was typical of contemporary small houses of the gentry throughout Scotland. Its nucleus was the tall tower house – above a basement for storage was the family’s main living room, the hall, with their private chambers above. The stout stone courtyard wall surrounded the tower, within which there would have been other buildings including a stable, bakehouse and brewhouse: these have gone, but the lofty tower still stands.

Soldier of the 20th Regiment, circa 1742 (Culloden)

Corgarff Castle passed into State care in 1961 and has since been restored by Historic Scotland as it would have been in the years following the 1748 conversion. There are some beautiful and evocative pictures of the Castle, its rooms, illegal whisky stills, the courtyard, uniform of the Redcoats etc – well worth a visit or view here.

So bearing in mind the winter we have just had .. freezing cold snowy days, long with gloomy grey .. think about life back then .. how it would have looked to the soldier about to go on duty, staring out from castle walls, or upper floor windows ... that frozen waste, amid a hostile population or a raging sea below ..

Life is good now .. we visit and admire these castle, thinking of the hardships incurred on behalf of the fight that was the order of the day – warfare across the moors, fighting for King and country, or Queen and papacy, .. or feuding against invading nations – that was life then .. the expectation of good times at the mercy of life and death of nobles and the Crown.

Here on this map of Scotland, you can see Balmoral, Corgarff is a little to its north east; Stirling in the middle, Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth, while Dumbarton is to the west of Glasgow, as I mentioned on the Firth of Clyde ..

Tonight I'll have an addendum to the Stirling Castle post .. so update anon ..

Dear Mr Postman .. all's well here - slowly my mother is throwing off her cold .. but sleeping lots and still can't hear, which is frustrating .. but we go as the best we can ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary, thank you for the map, I never paid much attention to where cities are unless I had a reason, so often I am ignorant where places are located.
Gruesome histories these castles, they sure have cured me from my wishes to be of royalty.
A small warm cottage and a simple life with no price on my head sounds far more attractive after your stories.
Love to you both as always, Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. thanks .. yes - I found another way to get an image & thus map, which I'm glad to know helped you.

I know they are gruesome ..but that's our past!! The update on Stirling is very gruesome, but so interesting to hear about.

Yes - a small warm cottage .. just cottage here will do, as it's warm at last! Definitely no royal or famous connections thank goodness ..

Thanks for your thoughts re Mum .. have a great weekend .. Hilary

Unknown said...

Hi Hilary,

It is great post as always. The pictures of these castles look like the ones taken in Disneyland or Universal Studio. They are beautiful as well as your story.

Thank you for your sharing.
Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shaw .. glad you enjoyed the post & the castles .. the real Disney land original is a German castle, which at some stage I'll do a post on .. that is very 'over the top' kind of castle, decoration etc etc ..

Good to see you - have a good Friday and weekend.. Hilary

angela recada said...

I would love to visit Scotland someday. Absolutely stunning scenery - and I adore castles! I've been fortunate enough to have seen many in Germany and Austria over the years.

One of my favorite things is to visit places with lots of history, and to think of all the lives lived there over the centuries. It gives me a wonderful sense of comfort to know that I am part of a long continuum of life on the planet.

I hope you have a lovely weekend!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Angela .. me too now - I've learnt some more about the castles .. I have been a few times, but not to explore or look - just for short visits. Lucky you seeing German and Austrian castles - some of those are absolutely amazing.

You will love the update I do on Stirling Castle .. in a few weeks I suspect .. as Chelsea Flower show next week.

Yes - I love the knowledge of where we came from, and how it all happened over the centuries .. and all the different eras .. so I'll join you in your continuum of life!

You too have fun - lovely warm sunny day here finally! Hilary

Anonymous said...

Life would have been harsh back then. Threat of being raided, looted, killed, taken away, etc. But I love Viking stories. Thanks for the history lesson. Its on my To Do While I'm Still Alive List to visit some of these European castles soon. Wonder if they allow tourists to spend the night in thm? That would be cool.

Stephen Tremp

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Stephen .. it sure would .. & you too will love Stirling's hidden mystery .. so interesting - terrible, but so informative.

They do allow stay overs in some historic houses .. usually ones with ghosts, and I'm certain Stirling is haunted - unsure which ones you can spend the night in. They do tours in London around the night streets ..something to check out ..

It's great that we're opening our eyes to our past, but forensics, archaelogy etc all help to guide our understanding & being able to see the scene unfold in front of us as the tv or film builds the documentary up.

Good to see you - have a good weekend .. Hilary

Sara said...

Hilary -- You are the best online tour guide I know!

I loved reading about these castles; you make it very interesting. I wish I could be there with you and walk through these buildings, but your writing more than suffices. I took the pictorial tour of Corgarff Castle. It would be worth the visit!

It's amazing the history and how old some of these places are. Thank you for sharing them with us:~)

Have a wonderful weekend:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. thank you - tour guide - I'd never thought of myself as that! Another notch to my bow!

Excellent that you look at Corgarff .. it is well worth clicking across & you came back - thanks! A combination of Balmoral and Corgarff with a tour into the Grampians would seem a good start .. long long summer nights .. sounds glorious.

The history and what we can find out today - always amazes me .. let alone as you say how old they are .. just so glad you enjoy them.

Good to see you - you too have a lovely time .. summer's here ... Hilary

Patricia said...

It was so nice to re-visit through your post these castles that we stopped at during our tour of UK last summer - was it just last summer?

I love this journey and learning about the history and stories. You do such a great job of teaching history and structure and purpose.

I got a great massage at a Castle just outside of Edinburgh that pays it's way by becoming a spa, hotel, and grand restaurant for weddings and formal occasions. The actual castle was more mansion sized.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. did you do all three?! I'm pleased these posts lived up to expectations. Thanks so much for your comments - really appreciate them .. and am so glad to please you and everyone else who reads and comments - love the comments - don't we all.

Yes - I'd thought about mansion houses, tower houses, large estates etc .. slightly different from castles .. just so much! Your castle stay sounds rather good .. especially if you stayed there?

Great to see you .. better put the link up re your other blog and my guest post .. before I forget .. ?! Have a great weekend & hope you feel better .. at least can enjoy your reading .. Hilary

PS delighted to have guested for you ..

Vered said...

I'd love to visit Scotland some day.

Teresa from the Ruralhood said...

Hilary, It would have been a harsh world indeed. But maybe a little romantic - in my dreams, huh?

I especially like the photo of the Corgarff Castle and would like to live there, please.

Another wonder and informative post.

(Journaling Woman)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vered .. we'd love to see you and the family here one day .. Scotland is certainly beautiful with lots of different aspects to it .. and the long summer nights.

Great to see you - have a lovely weekend .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa - Journaling Woman .. they must have had some romance! on the hot sunny days or the cold winter nights when it's peaceful!! Yes - not quite the way we're used to comfort in our lives.

Oh - ok - you and me too .. it's a pretty looking place isn't it! The inside with its wooden floors, soldiers rooms, whisky still and kitchens .. looks very pretty - easily converted - now it has light and water!

Glad you enjoyed it .. great to see you .. enjoy the weekend .. Hilary

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

Love the castle that is shaped like a star at the base. Look at all that those people did so that we can have the life that we live today.

It is good to visit again. We do not get to visit you as often as we would like. Life gets in the way sometimes. We learn something new every time we come. Have a great weekend.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. thanks for coming by - yes .. life can definitely get in the way .. but then we look, as you say, at our ancestors and see their achievements .. a very different world to ours today.

Glad you learn and the star castle is very attractive to look at now - really stands out ..

You too - have a great weekend .. Hilary

Keith Davis said...

Hi Hilary
Don't know either castle but your description, details and history make me feel that I've actually been there.
I'm not a castle man, I'm more of a stately home person, especially the gardens.
With the summer now fully arrived in the UK I should be able to start visiting - plenty to choose from.
Super in-depth post Hilary

Dorothy said...

Scotland and Ireland will be on our list someday, wonderful information, my first visit to your blog saw your comments on Ken's blog.

Dorothy from grammology

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Keith .. nor do I .. I'm afraid - but certainly I'm tempted north .. and now I've found two more Scottish castles .. all a bit much?! Loads of them & all so interesting .. thanks for feeling you're there and a part of their life .. great to know.

Actually - there's so many choices aren't there .. mansion houses, stately homes, national trust properties (as they are now) .. but I'll be doing those too - combining them in another way ..

In your neck of the woods there are loads .. down here we have a diameter = the English Channel! Double the time to enjoy each property .. Enjoy looking around our wonderful heritage and gardens, the gardens are exquisite .. early on last year! I did a brief bit on Kenilworth - Chelsea Flower Show ..

Lots to do .. enjoy tomorrow .. a garden perhaps?
Have a great day - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dorothy .. good to see you over here - I've seen your name around I see you're giving up? Thanks for being here .. and it'll be good to see you in England ..

Ken .. writes some very indepth serious articles .. - so thanks for coming by ..

Have a great Sunday .. Hilary

Davina said...

Every picture I remember seeing of Scotland shows a lush green landscape. It is another place I long to visit. Have you had any experiences with so-called haunted castles? I've heard that Glamis is one of the most haunted castles in Scotland. My X tells me stories he's heard about "chilly" atmospheres in certain castles.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina ... the lush green, as well as heathered moors, craggy coastlines, lochs .. you would love it - lots of hikes and lovely walks.

I haven't had any experiences .. though some people definitely have .. and it's not an experience I feel - though again some people are more aware. I think ghosts and wandering spirits will be with us ..

Glamis - now another Castle! .. again I don't know .. about being haunted .. I think Hampton Court is haunted, but that's a Palace .. not sure - well Wiki says so - now looking & there's a wonderful picture of the castle lit up against the night sky .. if you want to have a look -with some info on the legends and tales ..

Have a lovely Sunday ... Hilary

J.D. Meier said...

I was going to say, I don't think I ever climbed 557 steps, but I think the Washington Monument is more. Still, that's quite the hike and I can't imagine living in the castle and climbing the steps to do my morning jog on the beach :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. I've climbed a few steps to tops of towers in my time .. but like you I don't know if they had more steps than here. It's not your morning jog I'd be worried about it, it's doing it x numbers of times a day .. don't forget your armour up there! Or if your wife waves a flag from the window that lunch is ready .. and it'll get cold if you wait around?! Tough times ..

I love your description .. thanks .. good to see you jogging on the beach! .. Hilary