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.
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 ..
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