Dunnottar Castle in Scotland. Description, photos, history of appearance.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle sits on a high, rocky cliff on the North Sea coast, south of Aberdeen, Scotland. Dunnottar went down in history as an impregnable fortress that repelled enemy attacks more than once. No one could sneak up here unnoticed as all the surrounding slopes and coastline were clearly visible from the castle walls. The only way up was along a winding path through a gate carved in the rock.

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Video: Dunnottar Castle


The name of the castle is believed to have come from the ancient Pictish language. The Picts had a word “dun,” which meant “fortress” or “fortification.” It is noteworthy that the stone walls and picturesque coastal scenery were filmed more than once in feature films.

Nowadays Dannottar Castle is in a dilapidated state and is the property of the Cawdray family. It is very popular with tourists and is considered to be almost the most visited attraction in Scotland.

On a rock 50 meters high there are 11 buildings – defensive structures, several residential buildings, a blacksmith shop, warehouses, stables and a chapel. Of particular interest are an underground prison and an ancient well, which was used by many Scottish heroes. There is also a museum in the castle.


Dannottar is open daily for tourists: from April to September from 9.00 to 18.00 and from October to March from 9.00 to 17.00. Tickets for adults cost £7 and for children £3.

History of Dunnottar Castle

Exact data on the time of construction of the first fortress has not survived. It is known only that in V century on the coast landed Bishop Ninian who came here as a missionary. He erected a small Christian chapel on the shore, which was later surrounded by a fortress. According to chronicles, enemy tribes besieged these fortifications in 680.

The fort on the rock played a decisive role in several major battles and, thanks to King William I, was turned into the administrative center of the state in the early 12th century. In 1276 the old chapel was replaced by a parish church. In 1296 King Edward I seized the fortifications, but the next year Dannottar Castle was conquered by William Wallace, the fighter for Scottish independence. He cruelly massacred the English military garrison and burned it in the castle temple.

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In 1336 King Edward III sent soldiers, masons and carpenters to the dilapidated Dunnottar, and they rebuilt the ancient fort. The castle became a staging post for military companies, but it only lasted a year in English hands. Scottish troops, led by Andrew Murray, managed to win Dannottar back. Then Scottish Marshal William Keith ordered the coastal fort to be fortified. All the wooden buildings were torn down and replaced by stone walls and buildings over the cliffs.

In the 1930s, Dannottar Castle was turned into a palace, which was visited by many royalty. The fortress served as a royal residence and continued to be an impregnable fort. It was Dannottar that allowed King Charles II to defend himself against Oliver Cromwell’s troops for eight months. When the attackers finally broke into the castle, they did not find what they wanted to see-the crown, sword, scepter, and royal papers. It turned out that the royal regalia had been safely hidden under the floor of a nearby temple, and they were only recovered during the Restoration of the monarchy. Today they are kept in a museum in Edinburgh.

In 1715 the owner of Dunnottar Castle, Lord Marshal George Keith, was condemned for links with Jacobites and stripped of his property. The York Building Company became the owner of the castle, and they removed almost all of the property from the ancient structures. In the 1920s the new owner of the castle, Viscountess Cowdray, began restoring the abandoned structures. Today Dunnottar Castle belongs to her descendants.

How to get there

Dunnottar Castle stands on the sea shore, 30 km south of the large Scottish town of Aberdeen and 3 km south of the seaside town of Stonghaven. The nearest airport is in Aberdeen. From there Dannottar is reached by buses X7 and 107, which stop within walking distance of the castle.

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The distance from Edinburgh to Dannottar is 178 km. First you need to get to Stonhaven by train (2 hours), and from there to the castle by shuttle bus.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle, a medieval monument, is located in Scotland near Stonghaven.

Its fortunate location and well-designed defensive structures have made it virtually inaccessible to the enemy. It was here in the 1990s that the shooting of the famous film “Hamlet” took place.

History of Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle is situated on a rocky plateau overlooking the sea. To get to the medieval fortress you could either use the main entrance, which was well hidden from prying eyes, or use secret passage – the narrow path through the caves led to the sacred door. At the end of the 5th century, the Christian missionary Ninian, later revered as a saint, built a chapel here. His goal was to convert the Picts, an ancient people then living in central and northern Scotland.

There is written evidence that in 681 a certain Dan fortress was attempted to be stormed.

More than 200 years later in the same territory there was probably a battle between the Vikings and the army of Donald II the Insane who called himself in contrast to his predecessors already King of Alba but not Pictish (such changes according to some specialists are considered to be a landmark event in the historical development of Scotland). More precise historical information about the events connected with this castle dates back to the beginning of the 12th century. The fortress with the suggestion of William I the Lion became an administrative center and a century and a half later a parish church already rose on the place of the modest chapel.

At various times, dignitaries were received within the walls of the castle. There were lavish celebrations on the occasion of the arrival of the reigning monarchs: James IV and Mary Stuart. But there were also bleak times: prisoners were kept in the cellars, many of whom died. The major battles in the fight for Scottish independence and the decisive stages of the struggle for the throne took place here.

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The English monarch Edward I managed to seize this territory, despite all the strong fortifications and elaborate defenses. But the English could not hold this “tidbit” for long – it was repulsed by William Wallace, and the surviving soldiers burned in the temple during the siege of the fortress. Sir William, a Scottish knight, was one of the commanders of the troops in the battles for independence from England. As a true patriot of his country, who managed to inspire many others, he is dedicated to literary and musical works, as well as films, which were very popular with audiences. The monument in honour of the national hero, represented by a tower more than 60 m high, is located in the city of Stirling.

During the reign of Edward III the English rebuilt the fortifications destroyed in the battles and used the castle as a staging post.

After the Scots retook the castle, they replaced the unreliable wooden defences with stone ones. The process was led by Marshal William Keith himself, a representative of the illustrious dynasty.

In the 16th century the fortress was considered one of the most important objects of the Scottish kingdom. The castle came under the control of the Earls of Mareshall by order of the current king. They built several new buildings and added luxury and pomp to the previously gloomy fortress.

Dannotar played a far from negligible role in the power struggles as well. In the middle of the next century, it remained the only stronghold that supported a legitimate pretender to the throne. During the eight-month siege, a small number of defenders with the help of the locals managed to get important documents and valuables out of the fortress. The valuables, which included symbols of royalty, were hidden in a cache under the floor of the church. After these events, the owner of the castle, a successor of the Marechal family, lost all the privileges and property, and the castle was taken over by the York Construction Company. Its representatives removed from the walls of the castle everything they could. Viscountess Cawdray began the repair and restoration of the decaying buildings and premises. Her descendants still rule Dunnothar today.

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