Dunnottar Castle: A Majestic Scottish Fortress with a Storied Past

Perched dramatically atop a rugged cliff on the northeastern coast of Scotland, Dunnottar Castle stands as a testament to Scotland’s rich and turbulent history. Located about two miles (3 kilometers) south of Stonehaven, this iconic medieval fortress offers a glimpse into Scotland’s past, captivating visitors with its dramatic landscapes and remarkable tales of bravery and intrigue.

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A Brief History of Dunnottar Castle

1. Early Middle Ages: Foundations of Fortification

Although the surviving buildings date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, the headland is believed to have been fortified since the Early Middle Ages. Saint Ninian, a 5th-century Christian missionary, is said to have established a church at Dunnottar, laying the foundations for the fortress that would rise in prominence over the centuries.

2. Medieval Period: The Keiths and the Earls Marischal

The 14th century marked the rise of the Keiths, a powerful Scottish family who were granted control of Dunnottar by King David II. They became the hereditary Earls Marischal of Scotland and held significant power in the region. The Keiths transformed Dunnottar into a formidable stronghold, expanding the castle and reinforcing its defenses.

3. The Honours of Scotland and Cromwell’s Invasion

Dunnottar Castle is best known for its role in protecting the Honours of Scotland, the Scottish crown jewels, from Oliver Cromwell’s invading forces in the 17th century. As Cromwell’s troops advanced across Scotland in 1651, the Honours were spirited away from Edinburgh Castle to Dunnottar for safekeeping.

Cromwell’s army laid siege to Dunnottar Castle in 1652, but the Honours had already been smuggled out, cleverly hidden beneath a church floor in nearby Kinneff by the wife of the minister. Thanks to this act of bravery and cunning, the Honours remained intact.

4. The Jacobite Rebellion and Decline

In 1715, the last Earl Marischal forfeited his titles and lands for supporting the Jacobite rebellion. After this, Dunnottar fell into decline, becoming a picturesque ruin and losing its former glory.

Restoration and Modern-Day Dunnottar

The ruins of Dunnottar Castle lay largely untouched until the early 20th century when a wealthy industrialist, Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray, took an interest in the site. He initiated restoration efforts, stabilizing the remaining structures and making the castle accessible to the public.

Today, Dunnottar Castle is managed by the Dunecht Estates and is open to visitors year-round. The castle’s breathtaking views, intriguing history, and rugged beauty draw thousands of visitors annually.

Exploring Dunnottar Castle

Visitors to Dunnottar Castle can explore a variety of structures that speak to its storied past:

  • The Keep: The castle’s main tower, constructed in the 14th century, offers panoramic views of the North Sea and surrounding landscape.
  • The Chapel: Built in the 13th century, it showcases medieval architecture and provides a serene atmosphere amidst the ruins.
  • The Drawing Room: Once a lavish hall for entertaining guests, the Drawing Room is now a striking remnant of the castle’s grandeur.
  • The Whigs’ Vault: A grim reminder of the castle’s turbulent history, this dungeon held 167 Covenanters who refused to accept the king’s religious policies.

Practical Information

  • Location: About 2 miles (3 kilometers) south of Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire.
  • Hours: Open year-round (check the official website for seasonal hours).
  • Admission: Entrance fees apply (discounts available for children, students, and seniors).
  • Access: A steep path leads to the castle, which requires moderate physical effort.


Dunnottar Castle stands as a majestic monument to Scotland’s past, embodying tales of bravery, strategic genius, and historical intrigue. Its formidable cliffs and rugged headland make it an unforgettable site, while its rich history invites visitors to delve into the fascinating stories that shaped Scotland. Whether you are a history enthusiast or simply seeking spectacular views, Dunnottar Castle is a destination not to be missed.

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