Dumbarton Castle has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland. It overlooks the Scottish town of Dumbarton and guards the point where the River Leven joins the River Clyde. Its recorded history reaches back 1,500 years. At that time the place was known as Alt Clut, ‘Rock of the Clyde’. Later it became known by the Gaelic name Dun Breatann, ‘Fortress of the Britons’, from which the name Dumbarton is derived.

From the 5th century AD until 1018, Dumbarton Rock was the capital of the British kingdom of Strathclyde. Legend tells of Merlin the magician staying at King Riderch’s court there in the 6th century. The Rock was besieged several times, but the Viking assault in 870 was by far the worst. After a four-month siege, Kings Olaf and Ivar of Dublin carried off the slaves and looted treasure in 200 longships.

In the Middle Ages, Dumbarton Rock became an important royal castle. The medieval castle was built by Alexander II of Scotland around 1220 as a bulwark against the threat from Norway, whose kings ruled the Hebrides and the islands in the Clyde. When it was first built, the Norwegian frontier lay just 16km downriver, and Dumbarton served as a Border stronghold. The Battle of Largs in 1263 effectively removed the threat from Norway, but it was soon replaced by an even greater menace from England.

In 1305, during the Wars of Independence with England, William Wallace may have been held prisoner here for a short time, before being taken to London for execution. The Wallace Tower is thought to be named in his honour.

The castle’s geographical position, distanced from the political heartland of the country, reduced its importance somewhat, but it also made it a good postern, or back gate, through which her rulers could come and go with comparative ease. David II (in 1333–4) and Mary Queen of Scots (in 1548) both sheltered here until ships could take them to France and safety.

When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 to begin her personal reign, she landed at Leith, near Edinburgh on the east coast. Dumbarton’s long and distinguished role as ‘gateway’ was over. However, its role as a garrison fortress continued. Substantial new artillery fortifications were built in the 17th and early 18th centuries. These are what the visitor sees today, for nothing survives from the Dark-Age fortress, and precious little from the medieval castle.

In later centuries, the rock became a formidable garrison fortress, its defences bristling with guns. It last saw military action as recently as the Second World War.

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User Reviews

Count Shagula (4 months ago)
Very cool place. Dramatic scenery. This eleventh century castle is positioned inside an extinct volcano.
Stephanie Dykes (10 months ago)
If it was free I suppose it would be worth the trip but it cost £6 per adult and you don’t get to see much due to work being done. Some areas are closed off completely. It’s all hills and stairs basically.
Hayley Robertson (11 months ago)
It's definitely had a fall over the years changing the access to the shores, shrubbery isn't maintained very well the other side of the castle has been closed off even though there is historical views etc hidden behind! The path way has been done up with decor of fairies and gnome houses which was great to see by the community! but WDC could definitely put some funding into one of the most ancient and historical landmarks known instead of allowing it to become extinct whilst destroying history for modern day housing schemes a bit of balance between respecting the elders and those of us in present days!
Cece M (11 months ago)
Quirky castle which was nice to explore. But for the cost of £6 an adult there wasn't much to see and some sections where blocked off due to work being done which is understandable but would of been nice if that had been reflected in the price. Majority of the visit is outdoors with lots of steps to the top but lovely views all round. There's also a trig point to bag near the top!
Ramaa Ramesh (11 months ago)
557 steps up to the top, but you don't feel the strain as the guide takes you up gradually with pauses to rest your legs. Our guide was the manager and she was great, really enthusiastic and informed. The view from the top was superb - well worth the climb! The shop has a few nice bits. Highly recommend you visit if you're in Dumbarton.
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