The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Dunnottar Castle

Cliff Fort


Oh Dunnottar... the 'slope fort' (from the Gaelic 'Dun' [fort] and Fothair [slope]). At first sight the gaunt castle ruins, seeming almost to sprout from the living rock upon which they stand (between Castle Haven and Old Hall Bay, just to the south of Stonehaven), promise an interlude from the intensity of hunting the many RSC's in the area. A few hours by the sea to regain some perspective, perhaps? But then the sheer importance of this site, not only to Scottish history, but to the prehistory of this magical land becomes apparent to the interested traveller.

First, the history - the castle was established in the 14th Century, the walls no doubt incorporating elements of the preceding Pictish fort which once stood on the site, and must have been pretty well impregnable before the advent of heavy artillery. Wallace invested it, ditto Cromwellian forces between September 1651 and May 1652. It was during the latter siege that a Mrs Grainger, wife of Kinneff's minister, managed to blag herself an exit and spirit away the Scottish crown hidden in her dress. One assumes she was a somewhat hefty lass... as Private Fraser out of Dad's Army would say, 'wi' nice, firm thighs...'. But I digress.

For me, however, it is the natural defences of Dunnottar, the great crag jutting out into the sea, which make a visit here a must to all those with a passion for the past, a past which, if understood, can perhaps guide the modern Scotland towards a more balanced and confident future. Much has been written about Scots gaelic culture... not all of it to the nation's benefit, in my opinion (the ludicrous Braveheart, anyone?)... coinciding with devolution and the roaring success of the Tiger economy across the Irish Sea before the recent crash. Comparatively little has been written about the people who once inhabited Dunnottar in prehistory, a people who have arguably - to use a modern term - been retrospectively 'photoshopped' out of Scotland's story. The Picts.

So who were the Picts, these people who apparently scared the living daylights out of many a Roman legionnary, yet carved exquisite stones? Theres's apparently not an awful lot to go on. However legend has it Dunnottar was chosen by the Picts due to it's association with 'The Green Lady', no doubt some reference to a Mother Goddess?. Climb upon its rock, with the seagulls a'wheeling around your head in a cacophony of noise and I've no doubt you'll understand what they meant. Well, at least a little.....

Like Dunluce upon the Antrim coast, the castle here is almost an irrelevance compared with the rawness of nature at this site. If you're after a starting point to gauge the spirit of the Picts I'd argue here is as good a place to start as any....
8th February 2010ce
Edited 10th February 2013ce

Comments (3)

The Green Castles at Portknockie and Fettercairn are probably named after the Green Goddess. And us in our wee corner haven't forgotten the Picts at all, the big battle at Mons Graupius is still a subject of pub banter and serious debate, many of the cairns around here are still known as Picts houses, (many would rather photoshop out the Celts but thats a different story) e.g. the burial place and some place names can be traced to Pictish times. But I know what you mean lots of places are getting Gaelic names/signposts and I don't really disagree (as well as my good friend Trump another reason I left the SNP) BUT they should push the Pictish Culture as well and equally. Dunnottar, you are spot on Mr G, is a magnificient spectacle as your foties show. Right on my pal! drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
9th February 2010ce
The Picts have NOT been "photoshopped" out of Scotland's History. That is simply nonsense. Howburn Digger Posted by Howburn Digger
9th February 2013ce
Thanks for the, er, balanced opinion HD, which I'd suggest is perhaps a little too decisive, given the subject matter.

Note that the fieldnote was posted 3 years ago by an inquisitive Englishman at that time holding an - arguably stereotypical - point of view probably quite common south of the border.... an Englishman who nonetheless gets off his arse, driving many, many miles to see things for himself. To be recommended, perhaps.

In my (to be fair, not inconsiderable) experience - generally talking to 'ordinary' people, not academics - the 'Picts' would appear to remain very much an unknown quantity in Scotland. It seems few people on the streets, upon the hills and in the fields know much, if anything about them... save the existence of a few exquisite carvings, that they liked tattooes... and apparently gave the Romans a hard time. For me the primary question has to be 'why is this so'? Why does there appear - to me - to be this void in the national psyche? Further questions: why did the exquisite carvings cease? Why did a proud, warlike people that successfully resisted the Roman onslaught, arguably the finest military machine before the Wermacht, agree - apparently, according to what records there are - to peacefully assimilate with Irish invaders, to give up their specific culture, their art, their individuality, their very essence.... which Scotland was to fight so tenaciously to retain against the Anglo-Norman kings? Was it political expediency, the naked ambition of the elite to retain a measure of power through a compromise, uniting choice of king who happened to tick the boxes? Sure, I now understand the documents imply this occurred willingly.... but victors shape history in their own image, as the current debate relating to Richard III exemplifies only too well. So, a final question... are we sure? On what basis? Because no battles are recorded? Is there a danger we are coming to conclusions too quickly, perhaps for contemporary political expediency?

We've subsequently had this 'discussion in the forum since the post was made; the points raised were helpful to my understanding but - in my opinion - by no means conclusive. Far from it. I'd suggest there is scope for a lot more debate, if only to judge by the reactions of Scots I've met the length and breath of the nation... and beyond.

9th February 2013ce
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