Dumbarton Castle ***

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In the Dark Ages Dumbarton Rock was a mighty stronghold and the capital of a kingdom that covered the area now known as Strathclyde. These days nothing visible survives from that fortress and also precious little from the medieval castle. A visit though is an experience not to be underestimated.

The Rock was besieged several times. The assault by Viking kings Olaf and Ivar of Dublin in 870 was by far the worst. The pair carried off slaves and looted treasure in 200 longships following a four-month siege.

Alexander II of Scotland built the medieval castle around 1220 as a defence against the threat from Norway, whose kings ruled the Hebrides and the islands in the Clyde.

The castle’s location away from Scotland’s political heartland made Dumbarton a good back door through which her rulers could come and go with relative ease. It sheltered David II (in 1333–4) and Mary, Queen of Scots (in 1548) until ships could take them to France and safety.

When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561, to begin her reign, she landed at Leith. Dumbarton’s long and distinguished role as ‘gateway’ was over, but it remained a garrison fortress.

Substantial new artillery fortifications built in the 1600s and 1700s are what visitors see today.