Sunday, June 3, 2012

Alt Clut "Rock of the Clyde"

by Richard Denning

Last month I spoke about one fortress I had visited in Scotland at Easter (Dunadd the stronghold of the Scots). On the way home we had the chance to stop by Dumbarton Castle. Today I will share some images from the castle.

Dumbarton gets its name from Dun Breatanin which means fortress of the Britains. For Dumbarton was once the capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. That Kingdom was Roman-British or welsh speaking - the same peoples who became Welsh or Cornish but were displaced by the invading English. Strathclyde survived as an independent state until Duncan becomes king of a unified Scotland in 1034.

Through those centuries of conflict with the Scots and Picts to the north and west and the English to east and south it was this fortress that was their stronghold. Small wonder that another, older name for it was Alt Clut "the rock of the Clyde".

The earliest mention of the site was in the 5th century but archaeology suggests that it was a fortress way back in the bronze age. Small wonder for it is a natural defensive position. From a distance we see two huge hills. The fortress straddled both hills. 

Alt Clut, ancestral home of the kings of Strathclyde, was located on the north bank of the River Clyde on and between two rocky outcrops that thrust skyward on a small peninsula projecting out into the river. The lands in the immediate vicinity were still fairly low-lying with only occasional hills. Yet, as we approached along the river, the outlines of mountains were visible to the north and to the west. It was into those highlands that we were heading come the morrow.
The path took us towards the city built near the fortress and then, just before it entered the city walls, it branched and we followed the southerly route, which led us through a high wooden palisade built across the neck of land leading into the small peninsula. Once through the wall we found ourselves amongst a collection of shacks and huts housing blacksmiths, tanners, farriers and store houses. Beyond these, overshadowed by two watch towers high up on the rocky outcrops, was a king's hall. We dismounted, left the horses with our escorts and walked towards it.
From Child of Loki

The Vikings raided the fortress in 871 and captured it.

Later the castle was visited by Mary Queen of Scots who sailed from here to France.

IN later centuries it seems to have dwindled in importance until the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. A new Georgian castle and garrison was built after this and the place armed with powerful 12 pdr cannons. 

At the top of the castle a magazine was built to store the gunpowder for the cannons.

These days it is only the Georgian castle that survives although the museum has images of its life in earlier centuries. This castle has the longest recorded history of any in Britain. It has some stunning views across the river Clyde and you can even see the mountains to the north. Well worth a visit.


  1. This castle, unlike most ancient fortifications in Great Britain, clearly is meticulously maintained. I wonder why. On my recent visit to Wales I went to a number of castles, most were merely lumps under the grass.

    It was commonplace for local people to use the castle's stones to build their houses. Lordly sorts dismantled their castles and made grand houses. Of course there may be political reasons why Welsh castles were demolished, but it would be interesting to know why some Scottish castles have fared so much better.

  2. I should point out that THIS castle is the Georgian one. It is built on the site of the dark age one but only the 18TH C fortress is left.


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