Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland, about two miles (3 km) south of Stonehaven. The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th–16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been an early fortress of the Dark Ages. Dunnottar played a strategic role in the history of Scotland from the Middle Ages through to the Enlightenment, because of the location: it overlooked the shipping lanes to northern Scotland; and is situated on a narrow coastal terrace that controlled land access to the coastal south via Portlethen Moss to Aberdeen during the medieval period. The site, owned by private interests is open to the public, visited annually by hundreds of thousands of tourists. The ruins of the castle are spread over 3 acres (1.2 ha), surrounded with steep cliffs that drop to the North Sea 50 metres (160 ft) below. The L plan castle is accessed via a narrow strip of land, joining the mainland to a steep path leading up to the gatehouse. The cliff and headland formations, which extend to the north and south, is a notable bird sanctuary to pelagic birds.

Dunnottar has eleven buildings built between the 13th and 17th centuries. The dominant building, viewed from the land approach, is the 14th century keep or tower house, which shows damage from Cromwell's cannon bombardment. The other principal buildings are the 17th century chapel; a quadrangle structure on the east side; and the "Whigs Vault", shaped in a barrel vault design, and was the setting of an 18th century mass imprisonment. There are two entrances for the castle. The first is through the well-defended main gate set in a cleft in the rock, where attackers would have been assaulted by defenders. The second access is through a rocky cove, the aperture to a marine cave on the north side of the Dunnottar cliffs. From here a steep path leads to the cliff top, which is the well fortified postern gate.

Middle Ages
Possibly the earliest written reference to the site is to be found in the Annals of Ulster record a siege of Dún Fother in 681. Dunnottar is also mentioned as a site for a battle between King Donald II and the Danish Vikings in 900 AD. A raid into Scotland via land and sea by King Aethelstan of Wessex in 934 included an attack on Dunnottar. William the Lion used Dunnottar as an administrative complex. King Domnall II was the first man to have been called rí Alban (i.e. King of Alba), when he died at Dunnottar in 900 AD. All his predecessors styled themselves as either King of the Picts or King of Fortriu. Such an apparent innovation in the Gaelic chronicles is construed by some to spell the birth of Scotland. William Wallace is said to have led the Scots to victory over the English at Dunnottar in 1296. The outcome was completed by Wallace's imprisonment and incineration of the defeated English soldiers in the castle church. By 1336 the resources of Edward III of England ordered Willam Sinclair, 8th Baron of Roslin to sail eight ships to the partially ruined Dunnottar for the purpose of rebuilding and fortifying to use as a forward resupply base for the northern campaign. Sinclair took with him 160 soldiers, horses, and a corps of masons and carpenters. The English efforts were undone the same year when the Scottish Regent Sir Andrew Moray led a Scottish force that captured and again destroyed the defences of Dunnottar. By the close of the 14th century, Dunnottar was firmly under Scottish control, under the Clan Keith, whose chiefs were hereditary Earls Marischal of Scotland. The castle was rebuilt and augmented over generations by the Earls Marischal, including a large scale reconstruction under George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal (d. 1623), founder of Marischal College, Aberdeen (1593).

16th and 17th centuries
Early in the 16th century the Keiths added a new block to the east of the keep. Mary, Queen of Scots, visited Dunnottar in 1562 and again in 1564. In 1575 a stone gatehouse was constructed, which serves as the present day visitor's entrance. James VI was in residence for a portion 1580. From 1580 to 1650 the Earl Marischals converted a medieval style fortress into a decorative castle, constructing ranges of edifices around a quadrangle on the northeast. These resulted in luxurious living quarters. Between 1582 and 1584 a west wing to the fortress was erected. Also, during the 16th century, a new chapel was introduced. Then, early in the 17th century two other wings to the chapel were added. In 1639 the owner of Dunnottar was William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal, who that year joined the Covenanters, in opposition to the established Episcopal Church and consequently to Charles I himself. James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, an ally of Marischal, attempted to return him to the Royalists. Unsuccessful in his attempt, Montrose attacked the fortress, and set fire to the fields. Nonetheless, Marischal held the fortress which sustained structural damage. Simultaneously the Covenanters met at a conference in nearby Muchalls Castle. Events at Dunnotar and Muchalls Castles were important during the English Civil War, and played a role in the reconciliation between the monarchy and the Covenanters. King Charles II was received in a visit to Earl Marischal in 1650; however, in 1651 the English General Overton began a siege of Dunnottar seeking the prize of Scotland's Regalia, the royal crown, sword and sceptre used in the coronation of Charles II at Scone Palace. The Dunnottar fortress was defended by a small garrison of approximately 70 men. Governor Sir George Ogilvy of Barras surrendered to Overton's predecessor, General Morgan; however, the English were denied the Regalia, smuggled away during the siege by Anne Lindsay, related to Ogilvy by marriage. In 1685, during the rebellion of Argyll and Monmouth, 125 men and 42 women were herded into the dungeon known as the " Whigs Vault" in the Dunnotar fortress. Many perished in the prison; the survivors were transported to the West Indies.

Jacobite era
Both the Jacobites and Hanoverians used Dunnottar Fortress. In 1689 during Viscount Dundee's campaign, fourteen suspected Jacobites from Aberdeen were held in the fortress for approximately a year, including George Liddel, professor of mathematics. In 1715 the Dunnotar cannons were utilized by the Jacobites; following this uprising all the possessions of the Earl Mariscal were forfeit, and the fortress was dismantled three years later.

Cowdray family
After the seizure of Dunnottar from the Earl Marischals, the castle was neglected until it was purchased by the Cowdray family in 1925. The 1st Viscountess Cowdray embarked on a programme of repair. Since that time the Castle has remained in the Cowdray (Pearson) family, and has been open to visitors. The Hon Charles Anthony Pearson, the younger son of the Third Viscount Cowdray, currently owns and runs Dunnottar Castle which is part of the larger Dunecht Estates. Dunecht Estates extends to 53,000 acres and comprises seven different Estates – Dunecht Estate, Ramoir and Campfield Estate, Dunnottar Castle, Forest of Birse, Edinglassie Estate, West Durris Estate and Bucharn Estate.

Access and local setting
There are two access trails to Dunnottar. The first is an 800 metre steep footpath with modern staircases connecting the castle to a car park along the coastal road (that connects to the A92). The second is a three kilometre path from a street behind Stonehaven Harbour going south along the cliff top to the castle. This path is narrow and steep in places, but offers marine views. The castle is open to the public on the following days (with an admission charge):-
  • April (Easter weekend) to October: Monday to Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Sunday 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • June (3rd Sunday) to September (3rd Sunday): Monday to Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • November to April (Easter weekend): closed most of the time.
Another nearby local feature of interest for hikers is the cliff top path of Fowlsheugh Nature Preserve about four kilometres south. Fowlsheugh has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its prolific seabird breeding activity.

Media coverage
Portions of the 1990 film Hamlet starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close were shot there. An episode of The US Television show The Amazing Race featured Dunnottar Castle. In summer 2009, a landscape photograph of the castle was chosen as an official desktop wallpaper and included with the Microsoft operating system Windows 7, thus bring an image of the castle to millions of desktop PCs.


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