Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire

~ History ~

200's ~ A Pictish fort is erected just north of Dunnottar.

300's ~ Saint Ninian, an early missionary among the Pictish tribes, builds a place of worship at Dunnottar.

900 ~ King Donald II of Alba, son of King Constantine I of the Picts, troubled reign against the maraulding Vikings under Sigurd the Mighty, is

killed in battle by the Danes at Dunnottar, and is later buried on Iona. His successor is named as his cousin, King Constantine II. Donald's son, Malcolm, later becomes King Malcolm I.

1297 ~ A Scottish force under William Wallace captures the castle.

The English garrison inside take refuge in the church, but Wallace burns the church with the soldiers locked inside, and destroys the castle.

1314 ~ Sir Robert Keith commands the Keith Cavalry at the Battle of Bannockburn. Stirling Castle, occupied by the English, is under siege by the Scots. The English King Edward II, assembls a formidable force to relieve it. However this army is soundly defeated in a pitched battle by the smaller army commanded by the King Robert the Bruce of Scotland.

1336 ~ The English under King Edward III return when King Robert the Bruce dies.

Edward Baliol makes a bid for the throne once more with the aid of English troops. Edward occupies the castle and almost immediately begins to strengthen the defenses. Despite these efforts the Scots retake Dunnottar and once again burn it to the ground

1392 ~ Sir William Keith builds his Tower House at Dunnottar.

1458 ~ Sir William Keith is raised to the peerage as first Earl Marischal by King James II.

1503 ~ King James IV visits Keith at Dunnottar Castle.

1562 ~ Mary Queen of Scots visits the Castle for the first time. She returns 2 years later with her young son, the future King James VI.

1580 ~ King James VI returns to Dunnottar and spends 10 days at the castle, hunting and presiding over his Privy Council. His host is Sir William Keith, the 4th Earl, who is known as 'William O' the Tower' because he seldom leaves his own tower house.

1595 ~ John Crichton is sentenced to death for witchcraft and was burned to death at Dunnottar.

1639 ~ The 7th Earl Marischal joins the cause of the Covenanters and fights with the army of the Marquis of Montrose in the taking of Aberdeen.

1645 ~ The fiery Montrose reappears at the head of a Royalist army, having dramatically switched sides. Montrose tried to negotiate the castle surrender, but the Earl refused to treat with his former ally. Montrose then burns the castle and laids waste to the entire region.

1651 ~ The Scottish Crown Jewels are held at Dunnottar Castle.

A garrison of 69 men with some 42 guns withstand a siege by Oliver Cromwell's troops for eight months. The Jewels are smuggled to safety by lowering them in a basket to a servant woman gathering seaweed on the shore, who takes them to the parish church of Kinneff a few miles away where they remain hidden below the floorboards until the Restoration in 1660. Oliver Crowmell intent on destroying the Crown Jewels is enraged, and orders the troops wreck havoc upon the castle.

1685 ~ 167 Covenanters (122 men and 45 women), chiefly from the south and west of Scotland who had been apprehended during the reign of King Charles II for attending open-air religious services, are transferred from Edinburgh to Dunnottar Castle

Having sworn allegiance to the national Covenant of Scotland, they refuse to sign an oath of abjuration and are confined in the Whigs Vault, during which time some died and others attempting to escape are cruelly tortured.

The cell is described as cramped without room to sit down, the floor ankle deep in mire, and little fresh air to breath. They are even forced to pay for water to drink. Forty of the Covenanters are later transferred to a deep dungeon.

There is an attempt by 25 of the prisoners to escape by descending the steep cliff overhanging the sea but in their feeble condition 15 of their number are soon recaptured. Despite their poor condition the escapees are lashed to low benches and tortured for three hours by placing burning slivers of wood between their fingers. For some, this treatment is too much and they lose fingers or subsequently die from their injuries.

1695 ~ The 9th Earl Marischal manages to regain Dunnottar for the Keiths. But after 44 years as a barracks Dunnottar is no longer suitable as a family home.

1715 ~ The 10th Earl Marischal makes a fatal error in judgement, he belatedly joins the abortive 1715 Jacobite Rebellion in favour of James Stewart. The Earl welcomes James to his house at nearby Feteresso Castle. Both James and the Earl are forced to flee to France.

King George I siezes his estates, including Dunottat.

1717 ~ The castle is sold to the York Building Company, who strip it bare.


South of Stonehaven


Off A92


AB39 2TL

Dunnottar Castle in terms of the ancient rock it has been built upon can be traced back some 440 million years! Its role as a place of defence or worhsip can be traced back to the 4th century, making this a truely ancient site.

The remains are really quite extensive, so there is plenty to explore. Almost all the buildings are in ruins and roofless however, with the exception of the restored Drawing Room. But what makes Dunnottar so amazing to visit is the spectacular location.

Dunnottar is signposted off the A92 about 2 miles south of Stonehaven. There is a parking area and a short walk to the top of the cliffs.Once you get there the hard work starts with over  200 steps down to the base of the cliffs and then back up to the Gatehouse entrance point. Ther are benches part way down to pause and rest however.