Saturday, 12 November 2011

Battles for Castles 2-Dunnottar

Want to visit a dramatic ruined castle in a fabulous setting?

Dunnottar Castle is a great choice!

Since medieval times, Dunnottar (located on a rocky headland south of Aberdeen, near Stonehaven) has been the site of fortified buildings. Dunnottar comes from the Scottish gaelic, Dùn Fhoithear, meaning ‘fort on the shelving slope’. During Viking times (9th Century) King Donald II was killed defending Dunnottar Castle from a Viking invasion when they seized and destroyed the Castle.

In the 12th Century Dunnottar Castle became a Catholic settlement with the first stone chapel being consecrated in 1276.

Dunnottar Castle was home to one of the most powerful families in Scotland, the Earls Marischal, from the 14th century when Sir William Keith, the 1st Earl Marischal, built his Tower House, also known as the Keep. (Same one as in the Hallforest Castle of yesterday’s blog)

The Earl Marischal was an official duty conferred on the Keiths by James II. The job was one of the three great offices of State, along with the Steward and the Constable. The Earl Marischal was specifically responsible for ceremonial events, for guarding the Honours of Scotland and for ensuring the safety of the King's person within parliament.

Blind Harry, a 15th Century poet, wrote an epic poem that has been said to be the inspiration for the 1996 film Braveheart.-William Wallace setting fire to this chapel with a garrison of English soldiers taking refuge inside. William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II, all visited the Castle.

A small garrison defended Dunnottar Castle when Cromwell’s army beseiged it for eight months. They saved the ‘Honours of Scotland’ (Scottish Crown Jewels) from destruction. Crown, sceptre and sword are now all in Edinburgh Castle.

The surviving buildings come mostly from the 15th–16th centuries, a period when Dunnottar played a strategic role in Scottish History. Its location was ideal overlooking the shipping lanes to northern Scotland, and was strategically placed for controlling coastal access to the north and south.

Dunnottar has eleven buildings built between the 13th and 17th centuries. The dominant building is the 14th century keep which shows damage from Cromwell's cannon bombardment. The other principal buildings are the 17th century chapel; a quadrangle on the east side; and the Whigs Vault-which was the setting of a 17th century mass imprisonment.

There are two entrances for the castle. The first is through the well-defended main gate set in a cleft in the rock, where attackers would have been assaulted by defenders. The second access is through a rocky cove, the opening to a marine cave on the north side of the Dunnottar cliffs. From here a steep path leads to the cliff top, which is the well fortified postern gate.

After Dunnottar was seized from the Earl Marischals, the castle fell into deep neglect until it was purchased by the Cowdray family in 1925. The 1st Viscountess Cowdray started on a repair programme. Since then the Castle has been in the ownership of the Cowdray (Pearson) family, and has been open to visitors.

It's a fabulous place to visit, but make sure you've got good footwear for there's a nice wee walk to get to it -sometimes on narrow pathways-depending on the route you choose!


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