Overlooking the meeting of the Rivers Clyde and Leven in the west of Scotland, Dumbarton Rock has an impressive longevity of occupation. It is formed of two peaks, the Beak and the White Tower Crag, and rises 74 metres above its surroundings, giving it an ideal vantage point to protect against potential threats. It is no wonder, then, that it has a history of human occupation spanning over two thousand years.
From the 5th-11th centuries AD the rock was known as ‘Alt Clut’ – ‘Clyde Rock’ – and ‘Dùn Breatann’ – Gaelic for ‘Fort of the Britons’, from which the modern name Dumbarton derives. It was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde controlled west-central Scotland following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Since the 13th century Dumbarton Rock has been home to a royal fortress that has entertained many well known names in Scottish history. It is where Sir John Mentieth held William Wallace in 1305 prior to his execution in England, and also becomes home to Mary, Queen of Scots in 1548 for six months before she sets sail for France. By the time Mary returns to Scotland the castle has lost its royal significance, and later becomes used more as a military garrison. In the 18th and 19th centuries the fortress is used to imprison leaders of the Jacobite uprising as well as soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars.
Nowadays, only the 18th century Governor’s House, ‘French Prison’, powder magazine, and artillery defences survive. We suspect that the rock was used as a hillfort by the local Damnonii tribe during the Roman Iron Age in Scotland, although there are barely any visible traces of earlier occupation. Further archaeological research is needed to confirm this.
The castle is now managed and maintained by Historic Environment Scotland and is a popular visitor attraction.
For more information see their website here