Dumbarton Rock and Castle
|View of Dumbarton Rock from the shore at Sandpoint|
The works cited in this article (using square brackets) are listed in a references section at the end.
NS6186), and which is about 27 kilometres long by about 2 to 3 kilometres wide.
A few of the other volcanic plugs to be found within that strip are illustrated below:
|(left & middle) Dumgoyne|
|(left & middle) Dumbuck Hill|
(right) Dumbowie Hill
|(left) Dumgoyach (with Duntreath Standing Stones in foreground)|
(middle) Duncryne / the Dumpling
(right) Lot's Wife, near the Gates of Sodom
The abundant outflows from these volcanoes are called the Clyde Plateau Lavas, and they include the Kilpatrick Hills, the Campsies, and other ranges. More than seventy volcanic vents have been identified in the Kilpatrick and Campsie Hills, and they vary greatly in size (Lot's Wife, pictured above, is perhaps the smallest known example). Former volcanic vents may be filled with pyroclastic rocks, formed from material that was blown from the volcano and which landed nearby; on the other hand, when magma solidifies within the vent, it produces a basalt plug.
Dumbarton Rock itself is "a plug of microporphyritic olivine-basalt of Lower Carboniferous age" ([BGS], p52). This means that it is made of a fairly alkaline basalt, which contains small crystals of olivine within a finer-grained basalt matrix.
The dark basalt shows conspicuous columnar jointing, which is well seen from adjacent Castle Road, at the eastern end of the Rock. At the western end of the Rock are tuffs, sandstones, and shales, with veins of calcite running through some of them; they also contain many fragments of other rocks.
|(left) Columnar jointing on the eastern side|
(middle) Columnar jointing on the western side
(right) Concretion surrounded by calcite veins
Despite the effects of erosion, many parts of the Clyde Plateau Lavas are still hundreds of metres thick. According to [BGS] (p108), they may originally have covered an area of about 3000 km², and they may have been 600 metres deep in places. This shows the scale of the volcanic activity that took place here. At present, at least thirty distinct lava flows, with a combined depth of 300 metres, can be identified on the steep escarpments of the Kilpatrick, Campsie, and Fintry-Gargunnock Hills ([Mitchell], p26).
|The Long Crags: the escarpment of the Kilpatrick Hills; see also a wide-angle view from below|
At its base the Rock is about 250 metres across from east to west, and almost as much from north to south.
references and similar works fill in the gaps and provide background and context.
At that time, Dumbarton Rock appears to have fallen within the territory of a people whom Ptolemy calls the Damnonii (sometimes spelled Dumnonii); their domain may have extended from the River Clyde to Manau (or Manaw: the plain at the head of the Firth of Forth), and northwards to Strathearn.
The Britons who had a stronghold at Dumbarton were successors to (and perhaps the descendants of) the Damnonii who had earlier occupied this area.
Bede, in his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" (completed about 731) mentions Dumbarton twice, although not by that name. In chapter 1, he describes "a very extensive arm of the sea", namely, the Firth of Clyde, which "runs inland from the west for a very great distance, where there stands Alcluith, a city of the Britons, strongly fortified to this day" ["civitas Brettonum munitissima usque hodie"]. In chapter 12, while discussing the Britons, he again mentions "the city of Alcluith, which in their language means 'the rock of Cluith', as it stands near a river of that name". The river is the Clyde (Ptolemy's "Clōta"), and the name Alcluith is British (a language very much like an early form of Welsh). Later, Gaelic became the dominant language in the area; the present-day name Dumbarton is from the Gaelic for "fort of Britons".
"Leven" and "Lennox":
Ptolemy also mentions a "Lemannonian gulf/inlet" (Λεμαννόνιος κόλπος), a name whose roots probably have something in common with those of the modern names "Leven" and "Lennox". Dumbarton lies within a large territory that was historically known as the Lennox (an earlier form was "Levenax"), named after the River Leven, which flows past the Rock. The names Leven and Lennox are from a Celtic root meaning "elm"; see the comments in W.J.Watson's "The Celtic Place-names of Scotland" (1926) on the name Lemannonios Kolpos, and in W.F.H.Nicolaisen's "Scottish Place-names" on the name of the River Leven.
The Rock occupies a strategic location at the confluence of the rivers Leven and Clyde, and its topography favours its use as a fortress.
For evidence of early fortifications, see below, in the section entitled Archaeology. It is worth nothing that the kingdom's having had its fortress here is not the same thing as having had its heartland here (in the recorded history of the kingdom, the Rock itself is generally mentioned only in connection with its capture or burning). Nor does it mean that the king would ordinarily reside here. As Alex Woolf says of locations such Dumbarton Rock and Dunadd, "it is unlikely that kings spent much time in these fundamentally uncomfortable places"; they are more likely to have resided in halls beside rich, low-lying farmland ([Woolf], p30).
Aside from its conflicts, and notice of the death of some its rulers, we are told very little about the history of the kingdom of Alt Clut at this early period. Around the end of the sixth century, Riderch I of Alt Clut appears to have been involved in warfare against Bernicia (an Anglian kingdom). In 643, Domnall Brecc, a king of Dalriada, was killed at Strathcarron while fighting a British king, Eugein son of Beli (it is generally inferred that Eugein was a king of Alt Clut, even though none of the sources are explicit about this; see [Fraser], p173).
It is possible that Alt Clut was the successor of a kingdom that had, in the Roman period and later, included both Manau and Strathearn, and which corresponded to the domain of the Damnonii (mentioned above). By the latter half of the seventh century, the kingdom may have lost much of its former territory to the Picts or the Bernicians, or to both. Despite this, there is some evidence to suggest that Britons (most probably those of the kingdom of Alt Clut) were dominant in the west in the 670s and 680s.
In 750, in a battle at Mocetauc (probably Mugdock – c.NS5676), Talorcan son of Vurguist (Urguist/Fergus), a Pictish ruler, was defeated by the Britons of Alt Clut; Talorcan himself was killed. However, six years later, the Pictish king Onuist (Óengus), brother of Talorcan, and Eadberht of Northumbria led their forces to Clyde Rock (1 August 756), and the Britons are described as having accepted terms there. The source (the Chronicle of 802) then goes on to say that almost all of the besieging army perished soon afterwards (10 August) on the way from Ouania (probably Govan) to a certain Newanbirig; however, no details are given, and it may only have been the Northumbrian (Anglian) part of the forces who suffered this reverse.
The Annals of Ulster (in Latin) record the "combustio" of "Alocluade" in 780, but the circumstances of this event are not described. For almost a century after this, the kingdom does not receive mention in the historical records, although this may simply reflect a lack of sources for that period.
In 870, Dumbarton Rock was besieged by the forces of Olaf the White (a Norse king of Dublin) and Ivar the Boneless. The defenders succumbed to the invading forces after four months, and the fortress was plundered and destroyed. After this event, we hear no more about Clyde Rock; instead, we hear (from 872 onwards) of the "kingdom of Strathclyde". The name change perhaps reflects a political reconfiguration of the northern Britons; it is widely believed that Dumbarton Rock was abandoned, and that the new kingdom was based further up the River Clyde.
The subsequent history of the kingdom of Strathclyde is not relevant to the present account of Dumbarton Rock; it is sufficient to note here that the territory of that kingdom would become incorporated into the kingdom of Scotland by the eleventh century.
As for Dumbarton Rock itself, it does not re-emerge into history until the 13th century; its use, if any, in the years in between is not recorded. There are some incised cross-slabs at the Castle which date from the tenth century; they were found during excavation of a garden terrace behind the Governor's House. While it is possible that the stones are a relic of continuing occupation of the Rock, they may simply have been brought from elsewhere at a later date (for example, similar stones were found at Govan). In either case, they indicate a Christian presence in the wider area during the tenth century. (See [Alcock], p117-118.)
|Ancient carved stones (except for the one at the lower right, which dates from 1704)|
The Harleian genealogies of the kings of Alcluith include a certain "Ceretic Guletic". Scholars generally (though not unanimously) identify this Ceretic with the Coroticus who, as recounted in Muirchu's "Life of Patrick", was strongly criticised by Patrick because of the actions of his war-band. Chapter headings were added to Muirchu's work over a century after it was completed, and the author of those headings made the same identification, calling Coroticus "regem Aloo", or king of Ail (thought to mean Clyde Rock), an expression which does not appear in the original text.
The subject is discussed by Simon Taylor in a chapter written by him ("Early History and Languages of West Dunbartonshire") in the book "Changing Identities, Ancient Roots" (2006).
Leslie Alcock excavated the Beak (the flatter eastern summit of the Rock) in 1974-75; see [Alcock]. Before then, it was thought likely that the early fortifications at Dumbarton had been in the form of a "nuclear fort" (in other words, it consisted of an upper citadel with lower enclosures looping out from it); certain features visible on the ground were thought to be traces of this structure; however, the excavations revealed no evidence for such a nuclear fort (and the supposed traces on the ground turned out to be from a much later period).
|(left) The eastern end of the Rock|
(middle) White Tower Crag from the Beak
(right) The Beak from White Tower Crag
Any archaeological investigation on the Rock is greatly hampered by the building and rebuilding that has taken place here since the Middle Ages. However, on the eastern spur of the Beak, Alcock did find traces of a timber-and-rubble rampart that had been destroyed by fire (possibly relating to the events of either 780 or 870). The reason for excavating the Beak was that, as Alcock writes, "the higher, western summit, the so-called White Tower, is too pointed for occupation as anything more than a look-out". Alcock suggested the possibility that the large hill fort of Carman had been the immediate precursor of the early fortress of Dumbarton Rock, Carman perhaps having been located inconveniently far from the sea (he made it clear that these were hypotheses only; Carman has never been excavated).
|Carman hill-fort: possible precursor to Dumbarton Rock|
Alcock's report is well worth reading: in addition to discussing the excavation and its findings, it provides an abundance of background information.
In 1222, by means of a charter of King Alexander II, the Royal Burgh of Dumbarton was founded; in the charter, the king mentions his "new castle" at Dumbarton (the castle and the new burgh belonged to the king, but they were located within the extensive domain of the Earl of Lennox). In the past, the name Dumbarton had primarily been associated with the Rock itself (much of the land that would be occupied by the royal burgh had formerly been known as "the lands of Murroch", a name that is still applied to a prominent burn), but the name Dumbarton now also applied to the burgh.
|The Murroch Burn|
The first keeper (or constable) of the castle of whom we have historical notice is William Bisset, recorded as sheriff of Dumbarton in 1237.
A later keeper of the castle was John Menteith ("the fause Menteith"), infamous for his instrumental role in Wallace's capture. It is a measure of how much confidence the English King (Edward I) had in Menteith that Edward felt safe in entrusting Menteith, a Scot, with holding this important fortress for him. There is a tradition that a leering carved stone face on the castle's Guard House represents Menteith (of course, there is no way to determine whether that tradition is correct).
There are also the remains of a "Wallace Tower" on the Rock; the structure was probably named in honour of the great patriot, although it dates from a later period. "Although there is no record of Wallace's confinement in the castle after his capture, this was most likely to have happened as Sir John Menteith, who was sheriff of Dumbarton and keeper of the castle, was responsible for having him transported to London; but it could only have been for a day or so, as Wallace was brought to trial in Westminster Hall a little over three weeks from the date of his capture" [MacPhail, p15-16].
The Wallace Sword was kept at Dumbarton Castle until 1888, but was transferred in that year to the National Wallace Monument on the Abbey Craig (in this connection, it should be noted that many in Dumbarton were not pleased about the removal of the sword).
|(left) Guard House detail: traditionally, the 'fause Menteith'|
(right) The National Wallace Monument
In 1320, a certain Sir William de Soules was found to have conspired to remove Robert from the throne; de Soules was subsequently imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle, and he died shortly thereafter. In 1321, Bruce rewarded the loyalty of Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, with the hereditary keepership of Dumbarton Castle.
James III was defeated in 1488, at the Battle of Sauchieburn, by an army of disaffected nobles that included his own son, the future James IV. The latter, on his accession to the thrown, had to deal with a divided kingdom, and he twice besieged Dumbarton castle in 1489. After its capture, a relative of Robert Blackadder (Bishop of Glasgow) briefly held the position of keeper of the castle, but a few years later this position passed to Matthew Stewart, the Second Earl of Lennox.
Later, James IV would use Dumbarton as a base from which to launch his expeditions against the troublesome Lords of the Isles. After James died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, Scotland once again had a king in his minority, and, as before, rival factions vied for power. In 1514, the young John Stewart, Fourth Earl of Lennox, a nephew of the Earl of Arran, seized Dumbarton Castle in order to strengthen his own position and that of his uncle. He and his followers did so by burrowing under the North Entry under cover of darkness (at that time, the castle still had a northern entrance), and ejecting the garrison.
It was from Dumbarton Castle that Mary, Queen of Scots, departed Scotland for France in 1548. After her return, the castle was held by Mary's supporters against those of her infant son James VI. It was taken by James' supporters in 1571 when Captain Thomas Crawfurd of Jordanhill made a daring ascent, scaling the north-eastern side of the Rock to reach the curtain wall and taking the defenders by surprise (Crawfurd's large memorial is located beside the Auld Kirk at Kilbirnie – NS3153).
After 1603, the Castle had less strategic importance than before, and mainly served as a prison fortress. One notable prisoner was Patrick Stewart (c.1566-1615), the brutal and oppressive Earl of Orkney, who was held here for most of 1612-14, before being taken to Edinburgh, where he was tried and executed for treason.
When Charles I tried to impose a new prayer book on Scotland, he faced a great deal of opposition; his authority was defied by a General Assembly of the Scottish Kirk in Glasgow. Charles planned to invade Scotland to enforce his authority, and Dumbarton was to be the landing place for troops from Ireland. However, the king's plans for Dumbarton were forestalled when the Provost of Dumbarton, John Sempill, captured the castle in 1639. As a result of this and other setbacks, Charles was compelled to sign a treaty, the Pacification of Berwick.
In 1725, General Wade visited the castle, and found the defences in need of improvement. In 1727 he ordered the rebuilding of a section of rampart that had fallen away, and he increased the size of the garrison. At about the same time, fears of a Jacobite invasion provided the impetus for a more comprehensive reconstruction of the fortifications: the modifications included the building of the Governor's House and King George's Battery (both in 1735). [For the dates of other structures on the Rock, see the individual photographs of them, below, in features of the castle.]
When Queen Victoria visited in 1847, the castle guns were fired in welcome. This startled the horses of the royal carriage, but they were brought under control before any further mishap resulted.
Another noteworthy visitor was Dr Samuel Johnson (on the 28th of October, 1773); he is said to have had some difficulty removing himself from the little sentry box near the Magazine. In 1803, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, in company with Coleridge, visited the castle; afterwards, they walked around the base of the Rock at low water.
|(left) This sentry box was a tight squeeze for Dr Johnson|
(right) The Wordsworths and Coleridge discussed this boulder
(Click on those pictures for more details)
Samuel Bennett was Provost; he had been the chief promoter of this project. The grassy space on that side of the Rock came to be known as the Pier Park.
A little later, in 1877, the engine of the PS Leven was presented to the town by James R Napier and John Napier, the sons of Robert Napier. According to them, the engine had been designed by David Elder, and they were of the opinion that it dated from about 1824.
The presentation took place in the Pier Park on Saturday the 11th of August 1877; on that day, the engine was unveiled and officially handed over to the town. The accompanying festivities included a regatta, as well as various sporting events on the shore. Some who were not taking part in these activities looked on from a high vantage point, on top of the Rock.
The engine remained in the Pier Park for a number of years, but it has subsequently been moved twice. After the first move, it became the centrepiece of a fountain pool in Dumbarton's shopping centre (that area has changed greatly since then). The next move brought it to what is, at the time of writing, its present location, beside the Denny Tank Museum (the Dumbarton branch of the Scottish Maritime Museum).
|(left) The Pier Park|
(right) The engine, in its present location
As for Dumbarton Pier itself, it was severely damaged by gales in December of 1900, and it was later abandoned. It had never proved very popular; it could only be used safely at high water.
The War Office formally handed over the castle to the Office of Works in 1909, and it is now cared for as a scheduled monument.
This ancient fortress had a final military role to play during the Second World War, when an anti-aircraft battery was installed on Dumbarton Rock. Four high-explosive bombs landed on the Rock in May of 1941. There was some damage to its structures (for example, the Magazine was hit, although, fortunately, it had long ceased to be used for its original purpose), but there were no casualties.
references give a good account of the sequence of building and modification that has taken place on the Rock.
The portcullis arch is thought to be the oldest of the surviving medieval structures.
There is a toposcope (plaque with directions to various hills and other landmarks) on a pillar on White Tower Crag. Around it are the ruins of a circular structure of uncertain origin.
|(left) Toposcope on White Tower Crag|
(middle & right) Remains of circular structure
|(left) Steep slopes of White Tower Crag|
(middle) The path to the top
(right) A view down the same path
- [MacPhail] "Dumbarton Castle" (I. M. M. MacPhail, 1979): as Alcock's report (below) says, this is a "well researched and documented account of Dumbarton Castle". This is the most useful reference for the history of the castle from the founding of the royal burgh of Dumbarton down to the time of writing.
- [Fraser] "From Caledonia to Pictland – Scotland to 795" (James E. Fraser, 2009): the first volume of The New Edinburgh History of Scotland. There are references to the kingdom of Alt Clut scattered throughout the work.
- [Woolf] "From Pictland to Alba – 789-1070" (Alex Woolf, 2007): the second volume of The New Edinburgh History of Scotland.
- [Alcock] Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS), volume 120 (1990), pages 95-149: this is Leslie and Elizabeth Alcock's report on the excavation at Dumbarton Rock. The title of the paper is "Reconnaissance excavations on Early Historic fortifications and other royal sites in Scotland, 1974-84: 4, Excavations at Alt Clut, Clyde Rock, Strathclyde, 1974-75".
- [BGS] "British Regional Geology: The Midland Valley of Scotland" (British Geological Survey; 3rd edition, 1985): this book was consulted for information on the Clyde Plateau Lava fields.
- [Mitchell] "Loch Lomondside" (John Mitchell, 2001): part of the New Naturalist series, this book includes a discussion of the geology of the area.
- "Geological Features of Dumbarton Rock: A Geological Trail": a very useful leaflet produced by Strathclyde Geoconservation Group (formerly known as Strathclyde RIGS Group).
- "Geology Explained Around Glasgow and South-West Scotland, Including Arran" (Judith A. Lawson & James D. Lawson, 1976): chapter 3 includes a discussion of the geology of Dumbarton Rock; it also describes features of geological interest to be seen at the base of the Rock, on the western side.
- "Dumbarton Castle: Official Souvenir Guide" (Historic Scotland, editions of 1993 and 2007): these are very useful accounts, in booklet form, of the visible features of the castle, and of its history.
- "Warlords and Holy Men – Scotland AD 80-1000" (Alfred P. Smythe, 1984). This is not so recent an account as Fraser's or Woolf's, but it is still of interest (see [Woolf], p353).
- "Historic Dumbarton" (E. Patricia Dennison & Russel Coleman, 1999): this book is mainly intended for local authorities or others who may need to know of sensitive areas of archaeological interest within the historic burgh that might be affected by development. However, it is also useful to the non-specialist who is interested in the archaeology of the area. Pages 10-11 and 71-78 give an account of the Rock and its castle.