Dumbarton Castle, a former military bastion less than an hour’s drive from Glasgow, Scotland, is a dream destination for history nerds everywhere. Situated on a volcanic rock overlooking the River Clyde, Dumbarton Castle also boasts incredible scenery for those who climb the nearly six hundred stairs to enjoy the panoramic views.
More a fortress than a castle in the fairy-tale sense, Dumbarton encapsulates the best of what Scotland has to offer. Richly historical, Dumbarton Castle has seen its fare share of use; this is not one of those frivolous, impractical landmarks impulsively constructed by an eccentric prince. In fact, a settlement has existed on this site since the fifth century A.D., and in the sixteenth century, Mary, Queen of Scots spent time at Dumbarton. In case you’ve forgotten, Mary, Queen of Scots was the cousin of Elizabeth I (daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII), who controversially sent Mary, Queen of Scots to her death in an effort to unite the religiously divided British Isles. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the castle was perceived to be a threat by the increasingly hostile Jacobites, a faction of Brits who wanted to restore Catholic rule to the Isles with the support of France. As such, a garrison remained on site well into the twentieth century – right up to the end of World War II, in fact. (Those interested can read more about Dumbarton Castle’s colorful past here).
If British history isn’t your cup of tea, fear not; strategically situated high on a plug of volcanic basalt, touring the castle rewards visitors with remarkable vistas of the charming town of Dumbarton and the surrounding River Clyde. While I’m something of a history nerd, I’m more interested in social rather than military history, so I went a little shutter-happy, completely relaxed by the beautiful surroundings.
Especially on clear-weather days, when the view from the castle feels infinite, a visit to Dumbarton Castle is a must. Doing so, however, requires a little advance planning, especially for those traveling to Scotland during the off-season; the castle is open every day in the summer and from Saturday to Wednesday in the winter. Luckily, my group and I happened to be in Glasgow on a Monday, with uncharacteristically gorgeous weather for a morning in early March.
The Governor’s House, pictured above, is one of the highlights of Dumbarton Castle and showcases an impressive variety of historical artifacts. And while my sister and brother-in-law in particular loved the artillery and military history of the site, the true draw for me was the breathtaking panoramic views, which I think are splendid enough to convince anyone to travel to Scotland:
Months later, I regret leaving the castle without asking about the wrecked ship visible in the above photograph. Why is it there? How long has the wreckage been in the water? What happened to cause the crash? Unfortunately, I might never know, but it was unexpected and fun to photograph.
After climbing hundreds of stairs, we joked that medieval Scots must have been in impressive shape. Trust me, this is the place to visit when you need to burn off those deep-fried Mars Bars Scotland is so famous for. And while the climb is a daunting one, are the reward is well worth the effort. While I believe this is good advice for anyone traveling, especially outside the country, I think it rings particularly true for those stopping by Dumbarton Castle: wear sturdy shoes. The skeleton of the fortress dates back to the medieval age, so in addition to the nearly six hundred stairs, the pathways throughout are understandably uneven.
When I visited Dumbarton Castle, I happened to be traveling with a motley array of family members ranging in age from fourteen to fifty-nine. During our nearly three week stay in Europe, I was forced to confront the reality that remarkably few activities pleased each and every member of our eight-person group. Dumbarton Castle, however, was well-received by everyone. The views and scenery were spectacular while the medieval history buffs went wild for the canons and strategic location of the fortress. We visited on our first morning in Scotland, and the castle started our trip off on a high note.
Unlike Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle – Scotland’s two premier sights – Dumbarton Castle is largely off the tourist radar, meaning a more peaceful and less hurried visit. In fact, our group had the entire fortress to ourselves during our visit, save for a pair older gentlemen, and we felt as though we were privy to a private tour! Even so, if you’re traveling with a large group and know the date of your visit, I do recommend purchasing your tickets online ahead of time and printing them out. I can personally attest that doing so saved time and stress for my group! It’s a breeze to purchase tickets online here.
I was not paid, reimbursed, or offered incentives of any kind in exchange for writing this post. Sponsored posts, which are thinly veiled advertisements, go against the ethics of this blog. I simply visited Dumbarton Castle with my family and fell in love with the breathtaking views and centuries-old history.