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Wondrous Crossings: Dunnottar Castle, a Historical Inspiration at the Edge of a Cliff


This place has stimulated poetic creation for centuries, since the castle was the stage for many battles and rebellions that sought freedom.

The mysteriousness that revolves around medieval castles frequently corresponds with a turbulent history, characterised by diverse occupations, uses and wars. Such is the case of Dunnottar Castle, also known as Warlocks’ Castle, which is on top of a rocky precipice near Stonehaven, in north-eastern Scotland. It is believed Saint Ninian, who erected a chapel on the site as part of his missionary endeavours, founded the place in the early 5th century. Much is speculated about the location that would eventually play a very important role within the Scottish independence, and which nowadays can be visited to admire from its tower what seems to be an endless sea.

Little is known about the castle’s foundation, except that after being a chapel it was converted into a fortress by the Picts that inhabited it. During the first half of the medieval period its inhabitants were forced to participate in violent battles with the Vikings that sought to take the castle. They lost their final battle in the ninth century, when their king, Donald the second died, and the imposing building was taken and burnt to the ground.



With the passing of time, the coveted location at Dunnottar, with an advantageous view over the North Sea was taken by William, the Lion, of Scotland during the twelfth century. The castle became the source of inspiration for the bards of the time, principally, Blind Harry who tells William Wallace’s story in the epic poem “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace”the main inspiration for the film, Brave Heart. The poem portrays Wallace’s battles while defending the castle in 1297, and, according to hear-say, he set fire to the chapel to kill thousands of English soldiers who had found refuge inside it. From the fourteenth century onwards the castle was given to one of the most powerful families in Scotland, the Earls of Marischal, who built the main tower in the sixteenth century.

The place established itself as one of the safest places in Scotland, which was why in 1651 after the crowning of Charles the second, the Honours of Scotland (crown, sword and sceptre), were taken there for safekeeping, when they could not be returned to Edinburgh. Mary, Queen of Scots, also spent time in the castle, perhaps basking in the song of sea birds and the sound of the relentless ocean. Nowadays it is possible to become immersed in the history of the place and admire the view from the tower, as many generations of warriors, kings and counts have done before s. In few words, from Dunnottar the horizon ennobles.

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