Sunday 29 April 2012

The Siege of Dunottar Castle, Scotland (1651)

A recent business trip to Aberdeen, Scotland produced an unexpected bonus when a client took me out to see the spectacular Dunnottar Castle which is about thirty minutes drive from the 'granite city'. The site is spectacular. The castle sits on the flat top of a rocky outcrop which can only be reached by traversing a single track narrow path or by boat. The cliffs surrounding the castle are sheer vertical inclines and the way up to the castle is secured by a single entrance way set into the rock itself.

Dunnottar Castle
Oliver Cromwell's army laid siege to the castle for eight long months in 1651. The broken parapets which are evident today, are the result of the damage inflicted by the new model army's siege guns. The siege was unsuccessful but as a precaution, the Scottish Crown Jewels which were hidden in the castle, were smuggled out by the wife of the minister (Reverend Grainger) at nearby Kinnef Kirk church. Legend has it that these precious objects were lowered to Mrs Grainger who was waiting on the beach to the South of the outcrop.

Defences at the Gate
There had been a number of earlier sieges at this site. The first couple when Dunottar was known for its' status as a Pictish fortress. These sieges occurred in 693 AD and 934 AD respectively.

During the Scottish Wars of Independence the castle was garrisoned by troops carrying the flag of Edward 1st of England. This after Edward had crushed the forces of John Balliol, King of the Scots.

In 1297 (a year later) William Wallace and his rebel army attacked and took Dunottar. The English garrison was totally destroyed - many in the wooden buildings where they had taken shelter.

The Scottish poet, Blind Harry, wrote an account of this terrible time in his epic poem 'Wallace'. The words, which are shown below,  make chilling reading.

Therefore a fire was brought speedily:
Which burnt the church, and all those South’ron boys:
Out o’er the rock the rest rush’d great noise;
Some hung on craigs, and loath were to die.
Some lap, some fell, some flutter’d in the sea;
And perish’d all, not one remain’d alive.

The bay to the Nouth of Dunottar Castle
Now, the castle is a peaceful place. Though privately owned, the ruins are accessible at set times. On the occasion of my visit the door was firmly locked. The walk along the causeway and around the foot of the mighty rock on which the castle stands, served to show what a formidable fortification this would have been.