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Dumbarton Rock

Dumbarton Rock Scotland
10x8 Print (25x20cm) by Mary Evans

Dun Breatann, the 'fortress of the Britons' is the greatest Dark Age stronghold in these islands. A volcanic plug that dominates the Clyde basin, legend tells that St Patrick created this natural fortress when he hurled a rock at three pagan witches. Known in the old Celtic tongues as Alcluith, Dumbarton Rock has one of the longest recorded histories of any defensive site in Britain. British war bands and Pictish wizards feasted here listening to the great epic poem Gododdin. Merlin is said to have stayed here in 576 and in the Middle Ages Dumbarton was remembered as 'castrum arturi', the Camelot of Arthur and his chivalric court.

For almost five centuries Dumbarton Rock was capital of the independent kingdom of Strathclyde. Its darkest days came in 870 when the Norse king of Dublin Olaf the White laid seige for fifteen weeks. When the well spring high on the rock dried up, the weakened Britons were carried off in 200 longships to the slave markets in Ireland. The Rock only came to the King of Scots in 1018 after the Battle of Carham at the end of the long wars against Northumbria. Dumbarton then became a frontier outpost in Scotland's struggle with Norway for control of the Atlantic seaboard.

Dumbarton played a key strategic role in Scotland's victory over the Norse at nearby Largs in 1263. Edward Longshanks understood the Rock's importance and it was one of his first targets in the invasion of 1296. Edward's castellan at Dumbarton, John Stewart of Mentieth, captured Sir William Wallace in 1305 and legend says that the patriot was held in the Wallace Tower on the Rock before shipment to London for trial and dismemberment.

The massive Flemish bombard Mons Meg was fired against the Rock in 1489 when James IV twice laid siege to wrest the castle back from the rebellious Darnleys. In the turbulent years that followed the Reformation, Dumbarton Castle held out for Mary Queen of Scots. She was en route there when her forces were intercepted and routed in the skirmish at Langside near Glasgow. Her failure to reach 'safe Dumbarton' forced her to flee towards England and eventual execution. The Castle however was only taken back by the Protestants in 1571 when Thomas Crawford led his men up through the rocks and ramparts on the northern side of the Rock which had been thought impregnable. The Rock eventually served as a prison for defeated Jacobites awaiting transportation to the colonies.

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