Monday, October 09, 2006

More Saturday Adventures: Dumbarton Castle

Saturday, 7 October, 2006:

We weren’t sure to do next for our Saturday adventure, but after consulting our Scottish Heritage guidebook, we discovered a castle within a half-hour’s train ride from our local station. At the last minute, we grabbed Beth, whom we ran into on our way to the train station, coming back from the grocery store, and dragged her along on our latest Saturday Adventure. (We did allow her to drop her groceries off at home.) Little did we know what we were in for!

Taking the Helenburgh train from Anniesland, we passed through various stations that until now had just been names for us: Westerton, Dalmuir, Bowling (where the Canal finally reaches the Clyde), East Dumbarton. When I travel through these kinds of places I am always wondering what it would be like to live there, and I really like the idea of living near water.

After arriving, a bit of wandering around, and stop for directions (it's always nice to travel with women, because they're willing to ask for directions), we found Dumbarton Castle, a little way from the town, built against and up into a small cleft mountain right on the River Clyde. (At this point the river is quite wide.) The weather was windy and rain threatening, but we weren’t going to let that stop us, so up we went, climbing the narrow stone stairs that went up the cleft between the two volcanic outcroppings of the mountain. We wondered if our knees were up to the challenge, but we and they managed. The wind was quite ferocious at the top, whipping the Scottish flag at the top to tatters. The view from the top, however, was phenomenal: It turns out that the Castle Rock is on a peninsular formed by the confluence of the River Leven (flowing down from Loch Lomond in the north) with the River Clyde. We could see the rain heading toward us from miles away, the Clyde curving away into the distance, and the transition from town into the highlands.

The current castle is not particularly old, mostly from the 18th century, apparently built after the Jacobite Rising of 1745, to fight off the rebels. However, there have been military installations or castles on this site since at least 450 CE. During the centuries after the Romans left, this was the royal seat of the Briton kingdom of Strathclyde. There is even a legend that Merlin lived at court here! It's that kind of place. Of course, the Vikings came and wiped them all out around the turn of the first millennium. But, it was fun to imagine people living here at various times throughout the past couple of thousand years, and the place does have a sense of deep history.

Of course the wind blew our hair into wild knots, mine standing out in an eisteinian manner. At times it was so strong we had trouble standing, but fortunately the rain held off until we came down off the mountain. We are looking forward to taking our kids here when they come. Stirling Castle is much fancier and bigger, but Dumbarton Castle has a certain windblown, dramatic charm that we are looking forward to seeing again, and it was great to have Beth along to share our Adventure.

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