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Dumbarton Rock
Strathclyde, Scotland

[Sunday - 05/02/99] Dumbarton Rock has a longer recorded history as a stronghold than any other place in Britain. From at least the fifth century AD, until 1018, it was the center of the independent British kingdom of Strathclyde. In 870 AD, its inhabitants endured a four-month siege before surrendering to the Vikings.

In medieval Scotland, Dumbarton was an important, royal castle. It sheltered David II (Robert Bruce's son) and his young queen Joan after the Scottish defeat at Halidon Hill near Berwick in 1333. In 1548, after the equally disastrous battle of Pinkie, east of Edinburgh, the castle protected the infant Mary Queen of Scots for several months before her safe removal to France.

The castle's importance declined after Cromwell's death in 1658. But threats posed by both the Jacobites and the French in the eighteenth century caused new structures and defenses to be built and the castle continued to be garrisoned until World War II.

Today, all visible trace of the Dark-Age fort, its buildings and defenses, has left the place and precious little survives of the medieval castle. The most interesting structures today are the fortifications of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which illustrate an amazing struggle by military engineers to adapt an intractable site to contemporary defensive needs.

Whether the result of volcanic activity, or, as in legend, a rock hurled at witches by St. Patrick, the splendid views from the twin summits of White Tower Crag and The Beak remind us why this rocky outcrop was chosen as the premiere "fortress of the Britons" to which Bede referred to 731 AD. It also figures in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Life of Merlin (circa 1142 AD) and is maintained as the legendary birthplace of Arthur's evil nephew Modred. We found it exhilarating in both form and adventure with dizzying stairways and dramatic overhangs!

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Last modified on Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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