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Selected Trips

    Dunnottar Castle - Castle on the Cliffs

    In the Movies
    A Brief History
    Facts and Legends
    Honours of Scotland

    By Neil Irvine, Content Editor
    More by Neil

    Dunnottar Castle

    Located in the Northeast of Scotland is Dunnottar Castle. A ruined medieval castle that is perched on a rocky headland overlooking the North Sea. The view of the sea, especially on a sunny day, is really an amazing sight to behold.

    “In Scottish Gaelic Dunnottar Castle can be translated to Dùn Fhoithear which in English means fort on the shelving slope.”

    Classed as a scheduled monument, Dunnottar Castle is an archaeological site/historic building protected from any unauthorised change.

    The ruins of the castle span over 1.4 hectares (or 3.5 acres) and pretty much take up the whole width of the headland.

    The view from the headland is an incredible sight, however, it’s advised not to go to close to the edge. The surrounding cliffs measure 160 feet (49 meters) drop to the North Sea below.

    Where is Dunnottar Castle?

    Dunnottar Castle is located around 2 miles from the scenic town of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire and approximately 18 miles from Scotland’s incredible  ‘granite city’, Aberdeen.

    Stonehaven was originally a small fishing village called Stonehive. In modern times Stonehaven is often referred to as the coastal gem of the North East of Scotland. It has grown to a population of approximately 11,000.

    It’s possible to reach Dunnottar Castle from the nearby town of Stonehaven on foot along a beautiful coastal walk where you can also visit the stunning picturesque Stonehaven Harbour. Please check if the coastal path is open, as it’s often closed due to landslides. Alternatively, there is a large visitor car park that still includes a nice stroll through the surrounding fields.

    If you are a golf fan you can even enjoy a game on top of the dramatic sea cliffs.

    Dunnottar Castle & Stonehaven Images

    Dunnottar Castle in Movies and TV

    Norman Reddus visits Dunnottar Castle Read More

    In 2019 American actor Norman Reedus (of Walking Dead fame) visits Scotland for an episode of his biker culture travel show ‘Ride.’ In this episode, he is joined by fellow Walking Dead Actress Melissa McBride. McBride is tracing the footsteps of her long lost relatives. Their journey takings them across Scotland from the capital city of Edinburgh in the centre of Scotland to Aberdeen in the North East.

    On their way journeying through the Scottish countryside they visit Dunnottar Castle as they close in towards Aberdeen.

    If you want to find see their experience of Scotland then for reference they visited Scotland in Season 3 Episode 3 of ‘Ride – with Norman Reedus.’

    Frankenstein's Castle Read More

    Dunnottar Castle was one of the main sets/locations used in the 2015 American science-fiction horror film ‘Victor Frankenstein’

    The classic Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein was adapted to this 2015 film. It starred Scottish actor James McAvoy (X-Men films, Split) as the crazy scientist Victor Frankenstein, and Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter series) as the character Igor.

    The film may depict the castle in a dark setting, but in reality, the castle is just the opposite. You really have to see it in person to truly experience it.

    Shakespeare's Hamlet Read More

    In 1990 the classic Shakespearean tragedy was adapted into a Hollywood film starring Mel Gibson (Mad Max series, Lethal Weapon movies and, of course, Braveheart) as Hamlet.

    A number of castles across Britain appeared in the film – Dover Castle in England and 2 castles in Scotland. Blackness Castle was one of the Scottish castles used for the film which is located in Falkirk. The other Scottish Castle was Dunnottar Castle.

    A Brief History

    A number of prehistoric settlements have been in the location where the castle now lies. The earliest recorded history of the area comes from the 5th century where it’s said that the Celtic St Ninian created a church on the Rock of Dunnottar.

    Despite the creation of the church in the area that now occupies the castle, it is not clear in the history books as to when the area was first fortified. The Annals of Ulster, a manuscript dating to medieval Ireland, records 2 military assaults of Dunnottar Castle in 681 and 694. So it is possible that the castle was constructed not long before 681.

    Honours of Scotland

    For many history enthusiasts, Dunnattor Castle is best known as the hiding place of the Honours of Scotland. The Honours of Scotland were the Scottish version of the crown jewels. They were highly sought after by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century.

    There are a few versions of how the Honours of Scotland were hidden from the invading English army. These accounts all involved Mrs Grainger – the wife of the Minister of Kinneff in Aberdeen-shire. Some accounts include:

    • Mrs Grainger would hide the honours under her skirt right under the noses of the very guards who were looking for them when she entered the castle.
    • She lowered the honours down the cliff in a basket where her maid picked them up. She hid them in a large wicker basket that was used to carry fish. The maid pretended that she was gathering seaweed and again in this version, the Honours were right under the guard’s noses.
    • The final story is that Mrs Grainger hid them under her bed and then buried them at Kinneff Church under the floor close to the altar.

    Which, if any, do you think is the true story? Is it plausible that the Honours were hiding right in front of those looking for the jewels or is the church and the floorboards story more likely?

    A Scheduled Monument

    After all the bloodshed that took place inside and outside its walls and after many centuries the castle became a ruin. In modern times it has become an important piece of Scottish history. In 1970 the castle was classed as a scheduled monument by Historic Environment Scotland. This means that since 1970 the castle is protected from any unauthorised change. In 1972, 12 further buildings surrounding the castle were also given protection classed as national importance and regional importance.

    Surrounding Buildings

    Tower house Area

    Built in the late 14th century, the tower house has a stone vaulted basement. The rooms of the tower house include a great royal hall and a private room for the lord along with bedrooms located on the upper floor.

    Beside the tower house is a storehouse and also a blacksmith forge. The forge features a large chimney used for the creation of all types of swords and amour used in the protection from any invading armies.

    Nearby is a Waterton’s Lodging which is also known at Dunnottar Castle as the Priest’s House. This building, although rather small, includes a hall and a kitchen on the ground floor, and private chambers on the floor above. The house is named after Tomas Forbes of Waterton who was an attendant of the 7th Earl.

    The Palace

    The palace is in the northeast area of the Dunnottar headland. Thought to have been built between the late 16th century and the early to mid 17th century. This building is also sometimes referred to as the quadrangle because it is laid out with 3 main wings in the structure.

    On the north side of the building, there are kitchens, stores and a dining room. A great chamber is located on the floor above. Below the king’s bedroom is a vault which has become known as the Whigs Vault – where the Covenanters were held in 1685.

    Visit Dunnottar Castle with Wilderness Scotland

    Although we do not visit Dunnottar Castle at present on any of our scheduled group departures, we can arrange a visit if you travel with us privately. Find out more about tailor-made options here.

    Private Tours

    Meet the Author: Neil Irvine

    “Neil has enjoyed a stint in city life but that flirtation soon ended and he's returned to the Highlands of Scotland for the peace, tranquility and closeness to nature that he loves.”

    View profileMore by Neil

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