Last July, my cousin and I visited Scotland. We journeyed to the land of our ancestor to attend a Gathering of Clan Munro at Foulis Castle in the Scottish Highlands. We toured the beautiful land from North Sea coast to the Atlantic. After flying into Edinburgh, we checked in at our hotel to spend the night and recuperate from jet lag. Time allowed us to catch the bus to City Center and shop on Princess Street at Jenners and other stores along the way. After shopping, we strolled the park, listened to a band in the square beside the art museums, and ate ice cream.
We spent the next three nights in Stonehaven, a quaint fishing village on the North Sea south of Aberdeen. Our first visit while in Stonehaven was to Dunnottar Castle. The proprietor of our B&B said to reach the castle, we must climb 178 steps. Our desire to see the ruin remained undaunted, so with pack in hand, we set out for 178 steps and the castle.
The cliff-top setting of Dunnottar Castle is spectacular, to say the very least. Battered by the choppy North Sea, this awe-inspiring castle has played an important role in Scottish history. Dunnottar Castle in the Mearns occupies one of the best defensive locations in Great Britain. The site was in use throughout the High Middle Ages, and the castle itself dates to the thirteenth century
Dunnottar (from the Scots Gaelic Dun Fhoithear, meaning “fort on the falling slope”) played a central role in some pivotal moments of Scottish history. The castle guarded the Scottish crown jewels, and was besieged by William Wallace’s troops.
The castle is situated on a dramatic thrust of rock which bulges out from the Stonehaven shoreline. This flat-topped, red sandstone island is surrounded by the choppy North Sea; and was once connected to the mainland by a natural causeway – the Fiddlehead.
However, to protect the Medieval castle from attack, the natural pathway across the Fiddlehead was deliberately hacked away. Instead, a new access route was cut into the cliffs.
This plunging, narrow entrance route was designed to be a nightmare for any would-be attacker. This is because of its twisting pathway, blind corners, and arrow-looped 26ft tunnel – which made it easy for archers to pick off incoming assailants.
But if an attacker made his way to the castle gatehouse, he’d have been amazed at what lay behind. Behind the ‘bottleneck’ of Dunnottar’s entrance, the castle stands on a flat-topped rock which measures more than four acres in size.
Whereas other castles had to cram in smaller buildings to fit behind their expensively-built curtain wall, Dunnottar has the luxury of being able to spread itself across the top of this magnificent rock – naturally defended on all sides by the lashing ocean.
The castle’s owners spread themselves across the cliff – indulging any desire in large and luxurious living quarters they desired which included a palace fit for a King.*
Plan of Dunnottar Castle Key: A Gatehouse and Benholm’s Lodging · B Tunnels · C Tower house · D Forge · E Waterton’s Lodging · F Stables · G Palace · H Chapel · I Postern gate · J Whigs’ Vault · K Bowling green · L Sentry box · M Cliffs · N North Sea ~ Jonathan Oldenbuck
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