Dunnottar Castle – Dramatic Ruins

Less than two miles south of Stonehaven and fifteen miles from Aberdeen, on the east coast of Scotland, are the spectacular ruins of Dunnottar Castle. It stands on an enormous flat-topped rock with sheer cliffs on three sides overlooking the North Sea. A sense of drama fills you as you wander around the expanse dotted with remnants of Scotland’s historic past. You are surrounded by sea with seabirds wheeling and screaming around the cliffs below you. It is an ideal place for bird watching as there is plenty of nesting in the cliffs. No wonder this site was chosen in Pictish times as place of strength and by Saint Ninian as a place of retreat.

Dunnottar Castle was constructed in 1392 by Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland though there may have been an earlier building on the site pre-dating 1296. The dominant building is the 14th century L-plan Keep or Tower House, one of the eleven different buildings which comprise Dunnottar Castle. Other structures include barracks, lodgings, stables and storehouses.

Many additions were made over the centuries and the important structures are the gatehouse, hall, chapel and Priest’s House. They are spread over an area of almost three acres. At the far end of the plateau, is an elegant quadrangle surrounded on three sides by domestic buildings of the 17th century. These buildings included one of the largest ballrooms in Scotland extending to some fifty yards. The fourth side is formed by the Castle’s 13th century chapel.

Dunnottar Castle made it to the history books for many reasons, mainly as a small garrison that held out against the might of Cromwell’s army for eight months. They succeeded in saving the Scottish Crown Jewels, the ‘Honours of Scotland’, from destruction. Much later in1685 it was here that 167 Covenanters were held prisoner and many died in the Whigs Vault dungeon, which still exist.

The last Earl Marischal was convicted of treason for his part in the Jacobite rising of 1715 and his estates, including Dunnottar Castle, were seized by the government. The castle was dismantled in 1718 and the York Buildings Company stripped the place of its lead. It fell into decay and repairs were started only in 1925 by Viscountess Cowdray, whose family now owns the castle.

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