Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle

There is a wonderful resource called the Dictionary of the Scots Language providing definitions for thousands of words from all across the country. Its definition of ‘haar’ is:

‘A cold mist or fog, gen. used on the east coast for a sea-mist’

When I left Glasgow yesterday morning, it was cold, wet and drizzly. It was the first rain I had seen in a fortnight so my reaction wasn’t downcast rather to point out to my family the strange wet stuff coming out of the sky. As the bus got further north towards Aberdeen, it became foggier and foggier, particularly when we reached the point when the A90 begins to hug the coast nearer Stonehaven. A haar and no mistake. That was the point when I could have changed my mind, stuck to Aberdeen and supposedly less dismal pursuits. But I didn’t. I persevered anyway. I had travelled 130-plus miles and I wasn’t going home without first paying a visit to Dunnottar, even if I couldn’t see 30 feet in front of my face.

From Aberdeen, I got another bus to take me back south again to Stonehaven. The bus did go to the road end at Dunnottar but I felt like a walk. Plus Stonehaven is a handsome seaside town, particularly the bit by the harbour with its stout stone buildings. Even with the haar, there were bairns playing in the water as the waves lapped up to the shore and folks sitting on benches watching and looking out. I ducked up a wynd and a steep slope towards the coastal path. I wasn’t the only one, meeting a steady stream of other people heading in the other direction. One reason why they were was the fact I could see absolutely fuck all, not even the War Memorial that sits high atop the hill facing the castle, but I could still hear the waves, proper pebbly waves, and that intensified their power. In the absence of much other visual stimuli, my perception and appreciation of them was intensified too and it was truly beautiful. I grew up by the sea so a thick haar is hardly unfamiliar to me. I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty in the dimness. The waves down below were just visible and they were fierce, whipping up a broth of foam as they crashed over the rocks.

War Memorial, post-haar
Your actual waves

When I reached Dunnottar, I walked down the steps though I could barely see the rock and nothing else. It made it more dramatic, particularly the Whig Vault, where Covenanters were imprisoned following a revolt in 1685, 122 men and 45 women. In there a large window gave a view across huge rocks bedecked with seabirds and an even stormier broth of a sea. The castle was still surprisingly busy as I walked around, different accents and languages, even some Scots, still present even with the mist. Dunnottar is also where the Honours of Scotland were fought over in 1650 during the brief rule by Cromwell and the English Parliament. The Crown, Sceptre and Sword were taken from Edinburgh Castle but eventually hidden in Kinneff Kirk up the road until Charles II assumed the throne and Cromwell got posthumously hanged for his trouble.

The view from the Whig’s Vault
Whig’s Vault

After a bit, I looked up and saw the sun trying to force its way through the haar, looking for all the world like a brighter, shinier moon. I proceeded to walk back around the castle again as I was able to see more of the cliffs and surroundings around me, even that war memorial on the hill, seemingly intentionally incomplete. The thought had occurred to me already to come back again regardless but it was nice to get the balance of the haar and the hazy blue sky that soon came.


Coat of arms to mark marriage of the 7th Earl Marischal to Elizabeth Seaton
This alone was worth the trip

Dunnottar Castle is justly one of the most prominent castles in Scotland. When I was talking about this visit, several people had spoken about their past visits or how they longed to go. It is a beautiful place, though one with a lot of substance too. I have been to a lot of castles in my time and there are some that are beautiful and insubstantial – Edinburgh comes to mind, since as fine a place though it is, the best bit is the view to other places. Urquhart might be another. It is a fine ruin though its location on Loch Ness makes it much more popular than it might otherwise be. Dunnottar combines its incredible surroundings with a formidable past. It suited my mood, since the 17th century is one of the most interesting to study of Scotland’s story, of the Union of the Crowns, Charles I and Cromwell, Darien and the lead up to the Union. Plus of course the Covenanters seeking religious freedom. Visiting places like Dunnottar made me interested in history in the first place and it’s why I will be going back to my degree next year to get it finished and learn some more along the way.

I took my time walking back up the steps from the castle, trying to find the best angle for a photograph of the castle on the cliff and one where I wouldn’t have people in the shot. The headland to my right had about five or six folk with cameras doing the same thing. I decided not to join them. From the bus stop I could still just see the castle, low on the horizon over the fields. As I got on the bus and it powered towards Stonehaven, I was rewarded with one last view across to the War Memorial with the castle peeking behind, another reason why it’s worth just going anyway, even if at first the weather doesn’t fit.


4 thoughts on “Dunnottar Castle

  1. Pingback: Digest: May 2017 – Walking Talking

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