Dunnottar Castle

Stonehaven, Scotland. Day 31, 29th July 2013.

Archaeology, Architecture, Castles, Dunnottar Castle, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, Travel

Since I needed to visit Aberdeen to catch a connecting flight to the Lofoten Islands, I made sure I made the short drive to Stonehaven to visit Dunottar Castle, one of the most remarkable castles in Scotland.

 

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Dunnottar Castle is obviously situated on a commanding natural fortification so it is no surprise that there was a fort here in Pictish times, though no-one knows much about that.  In 681 and 693 there were sieges here as part of what appears to have been a Pictish civil war.  In 934, Constantine II of Scotland withstood here a month-long seige by Æthelstan, first King of England.

 

_1383447 Here is an aerial view from an information board at the site.

The English took the castle in 1296 when Edward I was crushing John Balliol.  A year later, William Wallace took it back and burned the English garrison alive in the church.

The English took the castle again in 1336 and it was then visited by Edward III but the Scots recaptured it later the same year.

 

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This is the Keep, part of new stone fortifications built from the late fourteenth century, replacing previous fortifications that were probably mainly of wood.  There was only one way into the castle so with that fortified in stone, it became much more difficult to attack.

In 1645, Montrose besieged the castle for the loyalists in the Civil War but was unable to take it.  So, instead, he laid waste the countryside.

 

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In 1652, the castle held out for eight months under siege by General Monck for Oliver Cromwell’s forces.  Charles II had landed in Scotland to stage a rebellion against Cromwell.  Castle Dunottar was the last place to hold out.  It eventually surrendered following ten days of bombardment when Monck brought up the heavy artillery.

The English were expecting to secure the Scottish crown jewels “the Honours of Scotland”, comprising a crown, a sword and a sceptre.  The castle also held important papers of Charles.  Both were smuggled out of the castle before it fell.  The papers were smuggled out concealed in a woman’s clothing and the Honours were lowered over the cliff to a woman gathering seaweed.  Both were concealed in a nearby church until the Restoration.

 

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Have you worked out what you are looking at here?

Well, this is the view looking up.  We are inside the Keep, looking up towards the Great Hall.  I think we are in the basement and the Great Hall was on the first floor.  (For American readers, the first floor is the one above the ground floor).

 

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I think this is the end of the stables.  In the middle is a chimney with fireplaces on two levels.

 

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The notice says this is a 16th/ 17th century garden though it is inside a building that would originally have been roofed.

 

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This is the oldest part of the castle, the shell of a stone church dedicated to St Ninian from the late thirteenth century.  This is where William Wallace burned alive a defending contingent of English troops in 1297.

 

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This is the kitchen, as for the previous image.

 

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The Marischal’s chamber, with magnificent views out over the water.  The Keith family who built much of the castle and held it for hundreds of years, were Marischals of Scotland.

The Marischal (or Marshall) was originally a minor Court position but came to be one of the three main Court positions.  It was primarily tasked to settle Court disputes but also had a military function at least up the the Battle of Bannockburn though command of the military went to the Constable.  After Bannockburn the Marischals were less important but retained influence by virtue of now being Earls and due to their large land holdings.

 

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A view from the Marischal’s chamber.

 

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I think this is the “East Range”, nearby.

 

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A view of the Marischal’s chamber from outside.  At the bottom edge of the frame is a breach in the wall labelled “Thief’s Hole”.  I do not know the story behind that.  However, the room behind it is the Whig’s Vault.  In 1685, in the aftermath of Monmouth’s rebellion, 167 covenanters were imprisoned here, including 45 women.  Covenanters were hard-line Presbyterians who renounced Church hierarchy and these people refused to accept a new prayer book.

They were held for two months with poor food and inadequate sanitary facilities.  25 escaped though a window above the cliff but 15 were recaptured and two died.  37 agreed to take the oath of allegiance and the remaining people were deported to the Americas.  Seven had died by then and another 70 on or shortly after the voyage.  That only left 45 survivors in the Americas.

 

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This is the way out.

The Earls Marischal lost possession of the castle after one of them supported the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion.  The castle in any event had never recovered from the Cromwellian bombardment.

I may be lucky I visited when I did.  Dunnottar Castle is currently closed “indefinitely” as urgent maintenance work is underway on the structures over the entrance and it is not known how long this will take to complete.

 

Northern Unst

Unst, Shetland, Scotland. Day 30, 28th July 2013.

 

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Not far from Muness Castle, this is Eyea Breck or Clivocast Standing Stone, around ten feet high.  According to local legend, it marks the spot where a son of the Viking King Harold Harfager (or Harold Fairhair) died around 900AD and he is buried nearby.   When Harold became King of all Norway, many of his opponents fled to other lands including Shetland, Orkney, the Faeroes and Iceland.  His son probably died in one of the battles subduing a rebel lord.   I don’t know the name of the son and Harold had around twenty.  However, the stone is of course Neolithic and probably four to five thousand years old.

 

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Here, on the side of the road, a bus shelter converted to a charming community art gallery.

 

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Near Haroldswick, close to the northern end of Unst, a recreated Viking longhouse.

 

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.. and next to it, a replica Viking galley.  I can’t find the reference now but I recall reading that a crew rowed it from Norway and had intended to row further but ended up abandoning it here.

 

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As you can see on the deck, it is starting to rain.

 

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Not the easiest of vessels to steer I would surmise.

 

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A little further on, the ruins of a church beside the road.

 

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This was my intended destination, Hermaness Nature Reserve, and you can see the Visitor Centre in the distance.  By now the rain was quite constant.

I had hoped to go for a walk and catch a glimpse of Muckle Flugga, a picturesque group of rocks with a Stevenson lighthouse on top, at the northernmost tip of the Shetlands.   I had raingear, a raincover for my pack and one for my camera.  However, at the Visitors Centre there were signs warning against going for a walk in the rain wearing rain gear.  Someone in the last few years had fallen over on the path in the rain and slid on the smooth grassy surface over the edge of a cliff.  So I desisted and turned back.  It may have been just as well because I still had a long way to drive to return to Sumburgh at the south end of Mainland, where I was staying that night prior to a flight the next morning.

 

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The drive from the top of Unst to the bottom of Mainland is a voyage across Unst, Yell and Mainland together with two ferry rides.  This is the Ness of Sound, an “island” connected by a tombolo to the south western coast of Yell.

 

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Here is an interesting sight next morning, on the plane to Aberdeen.  An image of the plane, created by the sun and layers of clouds like a giant camera obscura, and surrounded by a rainbow.

 

References for Shetland:

  • Jill Slee Blackadder: Shetland
  • Robin Holmes: The Holiday Planning guide to Shetland
  • David W Moore: The Other British Isles
  • Undiscovered Scotland .

Muness Castle

Unst, Shetland, Scotland. Day 30, 28th July 2013.

 

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Muness Castle is named after Mu Ness, a nearby headland.  It was built in 1598 by Laurence Bruce, half brother to Earl Robert Stewart (sharing the same mistress of James V as mother).

 

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In 1571 Earl Robert appointed Laurence as Foud (anglicised as Sheriff) of Shetland.  Laurence developed an unenviable reputation for corruption and cruelty.   He undertook acts of piracy on passing shipping, changed weights and measures to increase his income and fathered 24 local illegitimate children by imposing feudal “rights” on local women.

He was removed from his post in 1577 after complaints from residents led to a Commission that visited Shetland and took evidence from 700 male Shetlanders.  Notwithstanding this finding and a prohibition by the Commission of his further living in Northern Scotland (i.e. north of the River Tay), Laurence returned the next year when he was appointed Sheriff-Depute by Earl Robert.

 

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After Robert died in 1593, Laurence did not have such good relations with Robert’s son Earl Patrick Stewart and this led to building Muness Castle in 1598.  In 1608, Earl Patrick turned up with 36 men and artillery, intent on destroying the castle, but withdrew for unknown reasons before completing the task.  Laurence was amongst those who testified against Earl Patrick in his trial in 1610 and he died in his bed in 1617.

 

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This is a cottage very close to the castle, with an adjoining dry wall shed that seems to have fallen into disrepair.

 

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The castle was sacked by French raiders in 1627 and though rebuilt was no longer occupied by the end of that century.  It was finally abandoned in 1750 and the roof had disappeared by 1774.

 

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The way in to the gate is mown and you can see the entrance door behind the wall to the right of the gate.

 

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This is how the castle may have looked in 1600.  The top floor and the roof are now missing.

 

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Above the main door is a nearly obliterated coat of arms and an inscription that reads (after translation from archaic spelling):

Listen you to know this building who began
Laurence the Bruce he was that worthy man
Who earnestly his heirs and offspring prays
To help and not hurt this work always.

He had good reason to be nervous about the longevity of the castle.

 

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This is the kitchen, on the ground floor.

 

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This is a chamber, or bedroom, also on the ground floor.  You can see from the circular walls that it is in one of the towers at each end of the building.

 

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Stairway to the second floor.

 

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This is the main fireplace in the great hall on the second floor.

 

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Here is what that hall may have looked like when in use.  I would think that peat was a more likely fuel than logs, though.

 

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This is a chamber or bedroom on the first floor, once again in one of the towers.  You can see where the floor was for the floor above.

 

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This is probably the smallest window you are ever likely to see, on the first floor, intended for use by musketeers.

 

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Looking through to the Great Hall, and the doorway to the room beyond.

 

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A double window this time, one for the view and one for the musket.

 

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The Lord’s Private Withdrawing Room, off the Hall with a private staircase leading to his chambers above.  The gaps in the surface of the wall are where the front of a chimney has fallen away.

 

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A different “double window” in the larger circular tower.

 

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Looking straight up in the tower.

 

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Probably the stairway to the no longer extant second floor.

 

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A different stairway, also closed, looking down.

 

Grenwell’s Booth, Uyeasound

Unst, Shetland, Scotland. Day 30, 28th July 2013.

With my extra day in Shetland I decided to head for Unst, the northernmost island. Getting there required driving across the island of Yell. My main objectives were Muness Castle and Hermaness Reserve.

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Muness Castle is in the South-East corner of Unst.  On the way there I stopped at the tiny village (and bay) of Uyeasound (I have no idea how the locals pronounce that).

 

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This is Greenwell’s Booth, in the village of Uyeasound.  It is a trader’s store and warehouse, for goods arriving and departing by sea.  It was built in 1646 by William Bruce, presumably a relation of Laurence Bruce who built the nearby Muness Castle (next post) fifty years earlier.

 

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This abandoned farmhouse is a short distance away from Uyeasound, very close to Muness Castle.  It probably incorporates stones from the castle as construction materials.

 

Jarlshof

Shetland, Scotland. Day 29, 27th July 2013.

On the southern tip of Shetland there is a most remarkable site, uncovered in a storm in the 1890s, that shows evidence of different periods of occupation over nearly 5,000 years.  There are remains of neolithic habitation, bronze age and iron age houses, a broch and several wheelhouses, viking longhouses, a mediæval farm and a mediæval Laird’s house.  These are built up on layers and much has been lost to erosion from the sea.

 

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This is part of a house from the Bronze Age settlement.

 

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A view from a nearby viewpoint.  In front is the remains of the smithy.

 

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This is what the smithy may have looked like while it was in operation, from an Information Board on site.

 

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This is an area close to but not part of the bronze age settlement according to the booklet I purchased.  Probably remains of iron age buildings.

 

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This is the remains of the Laird’s House.  The original buildings were constructed by Earl Patrick Stewart, bastard half brother of Mary Queen of Scots, but the ruins as we see them were mainly constructed by his son Earl Robert Stewart.  It was abandoned by the end of the seventeenth century.

 

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This is what it may have looked like around 1600.

 

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Another view of the Laird’s House.  The stones at the right are a grave yard, dating I think from the 18th century (but I can’t find the reference I saw a few days ago).  In 1814, Sir Walter Scott visited Sumburgh and Shetland as Commissioner of Lighthouses.  In 1822 he published a novel The Pirate which features the Laird’s House and which he named Jarlshof (or the Earl’s House).  This name has stuck for the settlement in place of the earlier name of Sumburgh (a Viking name referring to a fort).

 

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From the viewpoint in the Laird’s House as shown in the previous image, we are able to look down on the site.  There are four wheelhouses, from the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD.  This is what you see here and in the next few images.

 

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This is what like may have been like inside a wheelhouse.

 

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There was also a broch from the last century BC or the first century AD, which later had a wheelhouse built inside it.  In the foreground is some of the remains of the broch, though much of it has been removed by the sea.

 

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The design of the broch must have been similar to the cutaway above.  It would originally have been about 15 metres high.

I might have been better to purchase and read the information booklet before taking photographs and I may have found other views worth of note.  For example, I am not showing you remains of viking-age buildings or one of the iron age souterrains or underground storage tunnels, 6 metres long and 60cm high.

 

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From Jarlshof I then went to catch my plane to Aberdeen.  Except that it didn’t happen.  I had somehow managed to book the flight for the same day on the next month.  So when that was sorted out I had another day in Shetland and one less in the Lofoten Islands in Norway.

Fortunately I was able to stay another night at Burrastow and the image above is from the evening there.

The Drinking Horse

Shetland, Scotland. Day 28, 26th July.

From Scalloway Castle and West Burra I headed to Northmavine, the wild top corner of Mainland on Orkney. Due to the weather and shortness of time I didn’t see many of the places I had identified as worth visiting. It’s the sort of place that would repay long walks and much time spent in different weather conditions. That wasn’t available to me but much of what I saw was nonetheless impressive.

 

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_1383258_s This is Dore Holm, or the Drinking Horse.

 

 

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This is Calder’s Geo at Esher Ness in Northmavine.  A sea cave on the northern side (here the right hand side) is the largest in Britain, 20 metres high and with a floor area of 5,500 square metres (or about eight football pitches).  The cave is accessible from the sea and only when it is calm.  There are also not too many boats in the near vicinity.

The lighthouse was designed by David Stevenson  It is the last built by the Stevenson family and first lit in 1929.

 

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Another coastal view nearby, at Esher Ness.

 

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The stacks on the horizon are The Drongs.  We are now driving away from Esher Ness.

 

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A dry stone farm building at the end of a remote road.  Perhaps this was once a family house.

 

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Back in West Mainland, near where I was saying, this is the Scord of Brouster.  Here we see one of the neolithic farm buildings.  It was farmed from 3000BC to 1500BC.  In 1500BC a climatic change brought wetter and colder weather and because all the trees had been chopped down for land clearing, building or fuel, the fertile soil changed to peat and the land was never farmed again.  This is why we can see these ancient remains today.

 

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This is a cairn.  I presume that means a funeral cairn but I don’t know.  There are three houses and one also has a workshop or outhouse.

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Another of the houses.  The earliest houses were made of wood and no trace of them is visible.  There are also some remains of field walls.   The farmers grew an early form of barley and ploughed their fields with wooden ploughs or ards, pulled by oxen.  The ploughs had stone tips which broke when they hit rocks under the ground.  Seventy-five of these ard tips were found on site.  Fragments of pottery, steatite (soft stone) bowls and handled clubs were also found.

Australian readers are free to speculate that the Scord of Brouster may have been the home of the ancestors of the Brewster Brothers.

 

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Close to where I was staying at Burrastow, here are a couple of abandoned croft houses beside the road.

 

Return to Sumburgh

Shetland, Scotland. Day 29, 27th July 2013.

This was the day I was to catch a plane to fly out to Aberdeen but it was to leave mid-afternoon so I had plenty of time to visit some places first.

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Very early in the morning this was the view where I was staying at Burrastow, with fog and no dawn colours.

 

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I headed off to the west and this is Buxter Click Mill, on the western tip of Mainland.  The roof evidently used to be turf, perhaps atop stone slabs.  Hopefully someone will get around to restoring that to allow the wooden roof structure to survive.

 

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Underneath the mill,  these are the wooden blades the water turned to grind the barley.

 

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Hours later, I have turned around and am heading for Sumburgh on the south tip of Mainland.  I stopped to visit the lime kins of Fladdabister but found they were a longer walk than I had time for.  These are abandoned crofting houses by the sea.

 

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Abandoned house detail, also at Fladdabister.

 

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These two images are on the west coast, near Scousburgh.  The island is Colsay.  The second image is available larger than the usual expanded size if you click on it.

 

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This little bay is called Peerie Voe.

 

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This is the Croft House Museum.  It is a nineteenth century ben and but house, such as we saw at Corrigal Farm Museum in Orkney, with living area, barn and byre under one roof.  Unfortunately it was closed, probably for lunch.

 

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This is in Sumburgh at Old Scatness, a site under excavation with overlaid remains of iron age, Pictish Viking and Mediæval structures.  This includes an iron age village with broch, wheelhouses and later dwellings.  It was found during construction of an airport access road in 1975 which was then directed around it.  Unfortunately the site was also closed and all I can show you is two reconstructed structures.  I have no specific information on what they are, though I presume the roofed one on the left is an iron age house.  However, Jarlshof was open and that will be the next post….