This past weekend we had the wonderful opportunity of visiting Historic Scotland’s “The Rock of Ages” event at Dumbarton Castle. It was a fun-filled day for visitors of all ages. It was also a great way to explore the castle grounds located so close to the city of Glasgow.
The event lasted over two days and was a completely interactive experience. Guests could explore over 1000 years of Dumbarton’s history by walking through the living history camps. Inhabitants of the camps included vikings, romans, covenanters, WWI soldiers and more! As you walked around the camp, not only were you able to learn about the different time periods, but you could also take part in a variety of activities including pottery making, soap making and calligraphy. There were also some costumes to try on… and even I admit I still get excited by the prospect of trying on a viking helmet!
My favourite part of the Living History Camp was definitely the Irish Wolfhounds. The Irish Wolfhound is known as the tallest of all dog breeds and the males can grow over 3ft tall. These beautiful animals were originally used as a war dogs and would have also been used for hunting and guarding. The Irish Wolfhounds at the event didn’t seem to have any type of war temperament however, as they were extremely friendly and well-behaved while hundreds of people (including myself) tried to pet them!
Another great part of the day was the live demonstrations. We were there on the Saturday and there were a number of different military demonstrations from that showed the role Dumbarton Castle and Scottish military had in various conflicts from AD145 up until the Second World War. My favourite demonstration was Scotland and the Somme. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, reenactors showed how Scottish soldiers would have trained for battle. It also showed some of the horrors, such as gas attacks, they would have experienced.
The ticket to the event also allowed visitors to explore the castle grounds, which is an impressive attraction in itself. The site of Dumbarton castle has been important since the Iron Age. It has played an important role in Scottish history, housing a number of important visitors at various points. The castle has been held by Vikings, captured by William Wallace’s men and was a key fortress for the Covenanters. Dumbarton Castle was also the place where Mary Queen of Scots sailed to France as a small girl in 1548.
Today, there is not much of the actual castle left, but there is still lots to explore. The site of the actual castle is built on Dumbarton Rock, the filling of a volcano from 350 million years ago. There are over 500 steps to reach the top of the rock, and if you can manage the view is stunning. The 14th century Portcullis Arch can still be seen, as can the foundations of the Wallace Tower. There is also a 16th century guardhouse and other 18th century buildings including the Governor’s House.
Overall, Dumbarton Castle is a wonderful day out. With an interesting history, beautiful views and friendly staff, it is a must-see attraction if visiting the Glasgow area. Dumbarton Castle is very easy to get to from Glasgow as it is about half an hour drive or 40 minutes on the train. And if you have a chance to catch an event like The Rock of Ages at any of Historic Scotland’s attractions, it is highly recommended you do so!