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.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.