Overlooking the town of Dumbarton, historically a port town of strategic and economic importance, Dumbarton Castle was once one of the most important places in the British Isles. Now, with military approaches having outgrown the need for castles, it is now regarded as one of the most attractive, interesting and historic tourist destinations in all of Scotland.
The history of Dumbarton Castle
Dumbarton Castle has been, for hundreds of years, one of Scotland’s most domineering buildings. With a history dating back as far as the Iron Age, the castle was long of significant strategic importance, its occupants tasked with keeping a watchful eye over the town of Dumbarton, once the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Alclud.
Perched atop Dumbarton Rock, a 73-metre-high volcanic plug of basalt, the castle’s location has been attacked numerous times throughout history. The most devastating assault is believed to have been one engineered by the Viking kings Olaf and Ivor, both of whom were based out of Dublin, back in 870.
This particular event involved a four-month siege, a complete looting of the fortress and the surrounding regions, and saw countless farmers, fisherfolk and soldiers captured as slaves. Not long after this attack, and once the region had regained its strength, plans were put in place to enhance the castle’s defensive capabilities. These subsequent developments form a large part of the castle that remains standing to this day.
In 1425 the role of ‘Keeper’ was introduced at the castle. This largely ceremonial position, often given to those individuals who have gone above and beyond while serving in a military capacity, is still in use today, and is currently occupied by Brigadier Donald David Graeme Hardie, formerly the Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire.
Getting to Dumbarton Castle
Located in the west of Scotland, and sitting on the banks of the River Clyde, Dumbarton is a town that is somewhat isolated, but is well worth taking the time to visit. It takes around 70 minutes to drive there from Edinburgh, 30 minutes from Glasgow, and can be reached in around two hours from Carlisle by driving straight up the M74.
Dumbarton also has two train stations – Dumbarton Central and Dumbarton East – meaning that even if you don’t drive, the town can still easily be reached. The castle is around one mile away from each of the stations.
What you need to know
The castle reopened on the 26 September following a long closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. If you are not a member of the castle, you will have to book in advance to be admitted. All tours are led by a member of the castle team; there is a waiting area where all guests must remain prior to any tour beginning, and everyone must wait until a steward arrives before they are able to enter the castle grounds.
There are a number of other attractions very close to the castle that are also worth visiting. There are an array of William Wallace tours, the wonderful Geilston Garden, the incredibly interesting Scottish Maritime Museum, the stunning Overtoun House – whose bridge has a very unusual conspiracy theory attached to it – and the Stags Head, one of the best pubs in the whole of Scotland.
Argyll and Bute