Dumbarton Castle

Guarding the point where the River Leven joins the River Clyde, the recorded history of Dumbarton Castle goes back 1500 years, the longest of any stronghold in Scotland. Once a great fortress and capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, it was known by it’s gaelic name Dun Breatann, meaning ‘Fortress of the Britons’, where the name Dumbarton came from.

Dumbarton Rock itself is a volcanic plug, gradually weathered by time, with two peaks upon which the castle and fortress sit; White Tower Crag and the Beak. It has an incredibly rich history: besieged several times, Viking assaults, captured and overthrown by numerous groups including the Picts, the English, the Vikings, and Merlin himself apparently stayed here. It has been a royal castle, home to powerful leaders of their time. And that only takes us up to the 1500’s!

When you pass the gate after paying for entry, you’ll immediately see a lot of stairs. (There are many to traverse on a trip to Dumbarton Castle!) Round to the left you’ll find a path that takes you along a section of wall to a viewpoint.

Straight up the stairs you’ll pass the portcullis gate, and then there are two different hills to climb up. One takes you up over the portcullis gate to the top of the White Tower Crag which has some absolutely spectacular views. The other takes you up to the artillery fortifications and a few other buildings. The site is mostly ruins now, but there’s still a few in tact buildings and a lot to see here.

The kids really enjoyed exploring the whole place. The walk up to the top of the White Tower Crag is quite steep and has lots of uneven steps, so just watch the wee ones en route. If they’re anything like mine they’ll want to run and jump and generally do all the things that stop my heart in its tracks…

There’s also an explorer quiz that kids can complete on their way round the castle. (Last time we were there it had to be downloaded prior to visiting though. Just FYI.)

The Highlights

There is so much history in Dumbarton Castle and in this whole area. I definitely learned a few facts whole we were there. Actually, the first time we went to Dumbarton Castle with the kids was just before lockdown and reading a sign about Mary Queen of Scots during that trip won me a zoom quiz.

The views out over Dumbarton from the north side of the hill are quite spectacular. You can get views out over the Clyde towards Glasgow, and over the Clyde Estuary towards Greenock.

The kids absolutely loved exploring Dumbarton rock and all the different parts of the castle. Particular highlights for them were learning about the portcullis and counting all the stairs (there are many – they got to more than 550) as we explored the whole place.

The Logistics

  • Wheels: The whole thing is a steep hill and there are a lot of steps, so definitely not suitable for wheels.
  • Parking: Parking available at the bottom before the gates. There’s a small car park and the rest is just on street parking.
  • Toilets: Toilets available at visitor centre. (This is where you pay for entry at the bottom of the hill so if your kids are going to need, make sure they go before you head up to the top!)
  • Clothing needed: Nothing in particular.
  • Dogs: Dogs permitted in outdoor areas; must be on lead and under control.

The Location

Dumbarton Castle is located in the heart of the town of Dumbarton, on the banks of the River Clyde so getting there is pretty easy by car. Dumbarton Castle is about half a mile from Dumbarton East train station and 1 mile from Dumbarton Central train station. Trains to Dumbarton take roughly 40 minutes from Glasgow.

The Cost

Entry to Dumbarton Castle is free with a Historic Scotland membership. (Worth getting if you’re planning to visit a few castles; especially Stirling or Edinburgh.)

Entry costs £4.80 for adults, £4.80 concessions and £3.60 for kids (age 5-15). Entry for under 5’s is free.

The Verdict

We have Historic Scotland membership and so have been along a few times to Dumbarton Castle now. The kids have a great time exploring and, every time, I learn something new from reading a different sign. The amount of history packed into this place is incredible. It is a bit off the beaten track for tourists but it is so full of history that it’s well worth a visit; there are some very informative exhibitions. And if you have a Historic Scotland membership anyway, it’s a great spot to have a wee wander & a cheap few hours out.

Pair it up with a wander round Levengrove Park, roughly half a mile away. It has a little tidal beach (on the Clyde Estuary) and pirate themed play area and a little cafe next to the play area. Lovely for a wander.

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