Wayfarer Column- Dumbarton’s landscape is dominated by the rock

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Whilst floating around the Clyde and its shipbuilding yards we can reflect for a moment on Dumbarton which has the distinction of being the old county town of Dunbartonshire.

It is strange and unaccounted for that Dumbarton is spelt with an ‘M’ whist Dunbartonshire is spelt with an ‘N’.

That apart the town sits at the confluence of the rivers Clyde and Levan and at one time was the Clyde’s highest navigable point.

The town of Dumbarton is dominated by Dumbarton Rock which at 240 feet high, has been fortified longer than anywhere else. The fortification includes a castle which has a unique history of its own being one of the three remaining Scottish fortresses, the others being Edinburgh and Stirling Castles. Dumbarton was until 1018 the Capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde eventually merging into the Kingdom of Scotland becoming a Royal Burgh in 1222.

But Dumbarton castle had a mixed history being located at the mouth of the Clyde it was in a unique position on Scotland’s most important commercial river. In 1305 the then governor, Sir John Menteith, captured by treachery Sir William Wallace who was incarcerated the castle until sent to London for execution. The small building beside the steps leading to the top of the rock is known as ’Wallace’s Guardhouse’ its gable end representing the head of Sir John Menteith with a finger in his cheek which is a sign of betrayal.

In 1548 Mary Queen of Scots aged five sailed from the castle to France promised in marriage to the son of Henry 11 of France. That never transpired and in 1568 she was heading for Dumbarton Castle, but before arriving her side was defeated at the Battle of Langside and Mary had to flee to France. A small sundial at the foot of the rock was a gift from Mary to a castle who had supported her for so long. . Naturally its importance diminished over the years with both Edinburgh and Stirling castles becoming more dominant. They were more central to the where the influence lay in Scotland. But Dumbarton Castle was well fortified and if you had to beat a hastie retreat from Scotland you could not be in a better opposition.

The castle dominates the mouth of the Clyde from both sides of the river, it is a high volcanic plug, (where have I heard that before?) and is well worth a visit even if it is only to watch the local football team which has a stadium just below the rock. See you next week.