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Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire

Location: Stonehaven AB39 2TL (map and directions)

Located on Scotland’s north-east coast less than two miles south of Stonehaven, Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries, though the site’s strategic defensive qualities have made it a location of fortifications for over 2,000 years. The term ‘Dun’ is Pictish for fort, meaning that there was a known structure here as early as 400 AD.

One of the most impregnable defensive structures in all of Scotland, Dunnottar Castle sits on three acres of land surrounded by 160ft steep cliffs overlooking the North Sea. The rock on which the castle stands was once joined to the mainland, but this narrow strip of land was carved away to ensure access to the castle was not possible.

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire copyright Gerhard Piezinger
Dunnottar Castle © Gerhard Piezinger

History of Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle was used by William the Lion as an administrative centre and in 1276 a parish church was founded here. Twenty years later, in 1296, Edward I took the castle and William Wallace took it back in 1297. 1336 saw the English again capture Dunnottar, until later that year when Sir Andrew Murray recaptured it for the Scots. In 1531, Dunnottar was declared ‘one of the principal strengths of our realm’ and granted by James V to the Earls Marischal of Scotland. In 1562 and again in 1564, Dunnottar was visited by Mary Queen of Scots, and James VI stayed there in 1580. From 1580 to 1560, the Earls Marischal converted the castle into a comfortable mansion.

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire - Wikimedia Commons
Dunnottar Castle - Wikimedia Commons

Its role as a defensive structure continued, and the castle was the only place in Scotland holding out for Charles II against Cromwell's forces in 1652. Dunnottar was of particular interest to Cromwell as it was holding the Honours of Scotland, the Crown Jewels, and Charles’ II personal papers. However, as Dunnottar surrendered to Cromwell’s army after an 8 month siege, it was then discovered that the Honours of Scotland had been smuggled out. They were hidden under the floor of Kinneff Old Church nearby and remained there for eleven years.

In 1715 the 10th Earl Marischal was charged with treason in the Jacobite rebellion and Dunnottar Castle was sold to the York Building Company. The buildings were left neglected until 1925, when Viscountess Cowdray began to repair the castle.

There are two entrances for the castle. The first is through the main gate and the second is through a rocky creek leading to a cave on the north side of the rock. The castle is made up of eleven buildings, erected between the 13th and 17th centuries. The main buildings are the 14th century tower house, the 17th century chapel and the ‘Whigs Vault’ - the setting of an 18th century mass imprisonment and one of the darkest marks on the castle’s history.

Map and directions

Today the castle is open to the public and visited by thousands of tourists each year.

View Dunnottar Castle in a larger map

Other castles in Aberdeenshire

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Bullet Point Dunnottar Castle
Bullet Point Esselmont Castle
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Bullet Point Muchalls Castle
Bullet Point New Slains Castle
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