Date: July, 2014
Location: Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland. The ruins are spread over 3.5 acres, surrounded by steep cliffs that drop to the North Sea, 160 ft below. A narrow strip of land joins the headland to the mainland, along which a steep path leads up to the gatehouse.
The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th and 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been fortified in the Early Middle Ages. Dunnottar has played a prominent role in the history of Scotland. The site on which the Castle sits has been inhabited since Pictish times (5000 BC to 700 AD). 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 name Dunnottar stems from the Pictish word “Dun” which means hill fort or place of strength. In the 5th Century St Ninian brought Christianity to the Picts, and chose Dunnottar as a site for one of his many Churches.
In the 12th Century Dunnottar Castle became a Catholic settlement with the first stone chapel being constructed in 1276. According to “Blind Harry”, a 15th Century poet, whose epic poem was an inspiration for the 1996 film “Braveheart”, William Wallace set fire to this chapel with a garrison of English soldiers taking refuge inside. The current chapel was built in the 16th Century.
Dunnottar is best known as the place where the Honours of Scotland, the Scottish crown jewels, were hidden from Oliver Cromwell’s invading army in the 17th century. The property of the Keiths from the 14th century, and the seat of the Earl Marischal, Dunnottar declined after the last Earl forfeited his titles by taking part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. Mostly destroyed by the wars, it was used as a barracks and prison.
In 1685 religious turmoil was at its height, with the authorities heavily enforcing every vestige of Presbyterianism. One hundred and sixty seven men and women who refused to accept the new prayer book and acknowledge the king’s supremacy in spiritual matters were marched to Dunnottar and interred in a damp, dark cellar which has since become known as the Whig’s Vault. There they were kept in dreadfully cramped conditions, with no sanitation.
To learn more about the castle’s fascinating history, click here.