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Dunnottar Castle


Site Name Dunnottar Castle

Classification Castle

Alternative Name(s) Dunfoithir; Le Castiel De Dunostre; Dunnottar Rock

Canmore ID 36992

Site Number NO88SE 11

NGR NO 88128 83842

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2016.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Dunnottar
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Kincardine And Deeside
  • Former County Kincardineshire

Archaeology Notes

NO88SE 11.00 88128 83842

(NO 8813 8385) Dunnottar Castle (NR)

OS 1:10,000 map, (1973)

NO88SE 11.01 NO 88028 83884 Benholm's Lodgings

NO88SE 11.02 NO 88065 83843 Smithy

NO88SE 11.03 NO 88047 83857 Keep

NO88SE 11.04 NO 88163 83817 East Guardhouse

NO88SE 11.05 NO 88088 83849 Priest's House

NO88SE 11.06 NO 88077 83825 Stables

NO88SE 11.07 NO 88169 83880 Quadrangle

NO88SE 11.08 NO 88152 83883 Well

NO88SE 11.09 NO 88038 83883 Entrance Gateway and Guardrooms

NO88SE 11.10 NO 88120 83855 Graveyard Walls

NO88SE 11.11 NO 88075 83873 Approach Tunnels

NO88SE 11.12 NO 88156 83863 St Ninian's Chapel

NO88SE 11.13 NO 8812 8384 Watching briefs (2005 and 2007)

Dunnottar Castle occupies a coastal promontory of about 1.4 ha protected on all sides by precipitous cliffs and approachable only from the W. The promontory is probably the site of a fort beseiged in 681 and 694 and destroyed by the Vikings between 889 and 900. Although there was possibly a castle here in the 12th century, the visible remains are all likely to be of later date and include an L-plan tower house, erected at the end of the 14th century, extensive domestic buildings, and a chapel and burial ground.

(Simpson (1968) gives architectural report, plans, etc.)

W D Simpson 1968; RCAHMS 1982.

Dunnottar Castle, as described and illustrated by Simpson (1968) is privately owned and open to the public.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (N K B), 15 December 1969.


Scottish Castle Survey 1988; N Bogdan and I B D Bryce 1991.

Air photograph: AAS/94/16/G32/7.

NMRS, MS/712/21.

(Location cited as NO 8810 8380: nominated as Site of Regional Significance). This castle probably occupies the site of a prehistoric fort; St Ninian established a church here about the beginning of the 5th century and it may also be the 'Dunfoithir' that was besieged in 681. An oval motte was noted on the site in 1970. In the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214) 'Dunnottar' was the place where warrants were returnable for the Mearns, and 'le castiel de Dunostre' is mentioned at the beginning of the 13th century. The parish church was on the site by the 13th century. Another castle (castle tower) was built at the end of the 14th century, being mentioned in a Papal Bull of 13 July 1394. Charles II lodged here in 1650 and the Scottish Crown Jewels (The Honours of Scotland) were hidden here in 1651 as it was considered one of the strongest places in the kingdom. In 1685, 167 Covenanters were packed into a small vault ('the Whig's vault') where 9 died due to the terrible conditions. In its final form, the castle was forfeited in 1716 and the roofs and floors removed and sold. In 1925 the systematic repair and excavation of the ruins was begun; the monument is now open to the public.

In its present form the extensive remains date from various periods. The oldest portion is the early 15th century keep with a range of buildings extending to the E containing stables and storehouses. The gatehouse is approached by a steep path and defended by three tiers of splayed gun-loops. The arched entrance is the only opening in a solid wall of masonry set into a cleft in the rock; a very impressive and dominating entrance. The buildings to the NW include a chapel, are grouped around a courtyard and date from the late 16th or early 17th centuries; a huge water tank lies within the courtyard and there is also a bowling green to the W of this later range.

A stone vessel from this site is held in the National Museums of Scotland.

[Air photographic imagery and newspaper references listed].

NMRS, MS/712/35.

Architecture Notes

NO88SE 11.00 88125 83861



Dunnottar Castle.

National Museum of Scotland Library (formerly in Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Library).

'Dunnottar Castle' by W. Douglas Simpson, 1931 - Plan and photographs.

'The Castle of Dunnottar and its History' by D.G. Barron - Plan and photographs.

'Scottish Notes and Queries' September 1930 - Drawing of entrance gate by D. MacGibbon.

NMRS Plans:

'Miscellany of the third Spalding Club' 1940 - views from North and South.

MacGibbon and Ross (no date) - Site plan and details.

National Library of Scotland.

Dunnottar Castle.

Sold 1873 to Alexander Innes #78,000.

Murray of Ochtertyre MSS, National Library of Scotland.


Scottish Magazine, July 1928. Article regarding Dunnottar Castle, page 67.

NMRS Library does not hold this issue of the magazine.

Non-Guardiamship Sites Plan Collectiom, DC23442- DC23444, 1923.

(Undated) information in NMRS.


Watching Brief (June 2005 - July 2005)

NO 881 838 Excavations for a new safety fence along the clifftop were observed and recorded in June and July 2005. No significant archaeological features were found.

Archive to be deposited in NMRS.

Sponsor: Dunnottar Estate.

J Wood 2005a.

NO 8812 8384 A watching brief was carried out on the handexcavation of post-holes for a new safety fence along the eastern edge of Dunnottar Castle (NO88SE 11), as a condition of Scheduled Monument Consent.

Only one pit contained any structural evidence, in the form of a flat sandstone block which may have been a base for artillery behind the adjoining bank. This bank, running along the top of the cliff, seems to date from the mid-17th century.

In one post-hole, near to the chapel, fragments of human skull were discovered. Elsewhere there was evidence of domestic refuse in the form of animal bones, mainly cattle and sheep, with some signs of skinning and butchering.

Other material recovered includes mortar and coal fragments, burnt slate, a single clay pipe stem (post-1850s) and a folded copperalloy plate. Much of this material could have been redeposited during excavations and repair works in the 1920s.

Sponsor: Dunecht Estates.

J Wood 2005b.

Watching Brief (24 April 2007)

NO 8810 8386 A watching brief was undertaken on 24 April 2007 as a condition of scheduled monument consent during the installation of an interpretation board beside the entry passage into the castle. No archaeological features or finds were evident.

Report deposited with Aberdeenshire SMR, Historic Scotland and RCAHMS.

Funder: Dunecht Estates.

H K Murray, 2007.

Watching Brief (28 April 2009 - 30 April 2009)

NO 88128 83842 A watching brief was maintained, 28–30 April 2009, during the installation of a safety barrier along the path at the base of the castle promontory to the steps leading up to the castle entrance. Each of the 39 hand excavated postholes contained a fill which indicated that the path was on made-up ground that had been renewed and resurfaced at various stages. No archaeological features or finds were evident.

Report: Aberdeenshire SMR, Historic Scotland and RCAHMS

Funder: Dunecht Estates

JC Murray – Murray Archaeological Services Ltd

Watching Brief (11 March 2011)

A watching brief was maintained during the installation of a new composter for grass cuttings from the Bowling Green in the NE sector of the castle. The composter is located in the NW corner of the Bowling Green. Fourteen postholes were excavated by hand but no archaeological features or finds were evident.

Reports: Aberdeenshire Council SMR and RCAHMS

Funder: Dunecht Estates

Murray Archaeological Services Ltd 2011

Information also reported in Oasis (mas1-113794) 23 January 2012

Watching Brief (14 January 2013 - 15 January 2013)

A watching brief was undertaken during the excavation of post pits for a new safety fence. No archaeological features or finds were observed.

Information from Oasis (mas1-145739) 26 March 2013

Project (1 April 2015 - 31 March 2016)

Survey work undertaken to upgrade records of listed buildings by area.

Watching Brief (18 May 2015 - 19 May 2015)

A watching brief was undertaken during small remedial works at three sites within the castle to install safety rails and a retaining wall. During construction of the retaining wall a bank of soil and rubble between the NW corner of the Smithy and the NE corner of the Store was cut back, giving a section through ash and charcoal from the Smithy fires. This yielded a sherd of late medieval/ post-medieval pottery, possibly of 16th-century date.

Information from OASIS ID: mas1-220468 (J C Murray) 2015.


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