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Dunnottar, Kincardineshire

Historical Description

DUNNOTTAR, a parish, in the county of Kincardine; containing, with the village of Crawton, and a portion of the town of Stonehaven, 1873 inhabitants. This place, the name of which is said to refer to the situation of its ancient castle on a peninsular promontory, appears to have been distinguished as the scene of some important events connected with the history of the country. The castle is by some writers supposed to have been originally founded by the Picts, to whom the great tower, which is evidently the most ancient part of the structure, is traditionally attributed; but the earliest authentic notice of it occurs during the contest between Bruce and Baliol, when Wallace, who had assumed the regency, wrested it from the English, by whom it was garrisoned. Some records in the possession of the Marischal family assign the erection of the castle to Sir William Keith, an ancestor of that family, who in the fourteenth century obtained permission to construct a fortress on the site, on condition of building a church in a more convenient situation, in lieu of the ancient parish church, which stood within the precincts of the present ruins. The fortress was one of the strongest in the country, and remained for many ages in possession of the family of Keith, the first of whom, says tradition, was a soldier who, in the reign of Malcolm II., having killed in battle the Danish general Comus, was rewarded with a grant of lands in Lothian, and invested with the title of Great Marischal of Scotland. During the parliamentary war, the regalia of Scotland, consisting of the crown, the sword, and sceptre, and now kept in Edinburgh Castle, were for security deposited in the castle here, by order of the privy council; and a garrison was appointed for the defence of the place. George Ogilvy, of Barras in this parish, having been appointed lieutenant-governor in the absence of the earl-marischal, who was then with the king's forces in England, gallantly defended the fortress for six months against Cromwell's troops under General Lambert, until, severely pressed by famine, and a consequent mutiny in the garrison, he was reduced to the necessity of capitulating. The regalia had been previously conveyed in safety through the besieging army to Kinneff by a stratagem of his lady in conjunction with Mrs. Grainger, the wife of the minister of that parish, who had them carefully concealed under the pulpit of the church until the Restoration. Ogilvy and his lady suffered a long imprisonment for refusing to tell what became of these highly prized relics; but on the return of Charles II., he was created a baronet, and a new charter of his lands was conferred upon him for his important services. John Keith, also, second son of the earl-marischal, obtained the earldom of Kintore, and the post of knight-marischal with £400 a year, as if he had been in truth the preserver of the regalia; whilst Mrs. Grainger, the real instrument of the preservation, received nothing for her share in the transaction, but the promise of a reward which was never given. George, the last earl-marischal, having joined in the rebellion of 1715, the title and estates of the family were forfeited to the crown; and the castle, which had been previously purchased by government, was dismantled, and has since been a ruin.

The PARISH is situated on the road from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, and bounded on the north by the parish of Fetteresso, from which it is separated by the Carron rivulet; on the east by the German Ocean, on the south by the parish of Kinneff, and on the west by that of Glenbervie. Its surface is boldly diversified with hills, of which Carmount, at the extremity of an extensive heath of that name, has an elevation of more than 800 feet; and with successive ridges for nearly three miles towards the north-west. The coast is abruptly precipitous, consisting of a range of cliffs in detached masses, rising from 150 to 300 feet in height. In these cliffs are numerous caverns worn by the action of the waves, one of which, called the Long Gallery, under a lofty promontory, extends more than 150 yards in length, and affords a channel through which a boat may pass from the bay at its entrance to another at its outlet. To the south of this cavern is Fowlsheugh, the highest of the rocks on this part of the coast, and the haunt of aquatic birds of every description, that build their nests and hatch their young in these almost inaccessible heights. Of late years, the birds have greatly diminished in number.

The area of the parish is 8156 acres, of which 4860 are arable, 690 woodland and plantations, and 2606 natural pasture and uncultivated waste. Its soil is various, consisting in different parts of clay, loam, sand, and gravel, and being frequently found in all these varieties on the same farm. The system of agriculture has been much improved, and the rotation plan of husbandry is in use; much unprofitable land has been brought into cultivation; the farm-buildings are in general substantial and commodious, and great attention is paid to live stock. There are few sheep reared; the cattle are usually of the black kind, and are mostly sold when two years old. The annual value of real property in the parish is £8768. The woods are of oak, ash, and beech, of which there are many fine specimens on the lands of Auquhirie; the plantations, the most extensive of which are on the estate of General Forbes, are of pine, larch, and Scotch and spruce firs, intermixed with various kinds of hardwood, and all the trees, with the exception of the Scotch fir, thrive well. The moorlands abound with every kind of game; there are partridges in great numbers, some few pheasants, and snipes, wild duck, and teal are plentiful. The rocks on the coast are for the greater part of the pudding-stone formation, with portions of trap and porphyritic granite, and occasionally of columnar basalt; sandstone is extensively quarried, and a species of flag, formerly in use for roofing, is also wrought. Dunnottar House, the seat of General Forbes, is a spacious mansion surrounded with rich and flourishing plantations; the gardens attached to the house were formed at an expense of £10,000. Barras, the ancient seat of the Ogilvys, is now a farm-house. The weaving of linen is carried on to a small extent, and many of the inhabitants are engaged in the fisheries and other branches of trade in the town of Stonehaven: Crawton, in the south-eastern portion of the parish, is chiefly inhabited by persons employed in the white-fishery, which is extensively carried on off this part of the coast. Facility of communication with the neighbouring markets is afforded by good roads in every direction; along the sea-coast is the high road to Edinburgh, and the Strathmore turnpike-road passes through the interior of the parish. Ready intercourse is also afforded by the Aberdeen railway. Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Fourdoun, synod of Angus and Mearns: the minister's stipend is £233, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £8 per annum; patron, the Crown. Dunnottar church, erected on the site of the former building in 1782, is a neat and commodious structure pleasingly situated. The parochial school is in Stonehaven, and is well attended; the master has a salary of £34, with a house and garden, and the fees average £46. The remains of Dunnottar Castle are very extensive, occupying an area of five acres on the summit of an abrupt and precipitous cliff, boldly projecting from the mainland, with which it is connected by an isthmus nearly covered by the sea at high water: the great tower is still almost entire; and the various ranges of building, which, though roofless, are in tolerable preservation, convey an impressive idea of former grandeur and importance. In the churchyard is a gravestone to the memory of some Covenanters who were confined in the castle; and here Sir Walter Scott, then on a visit to the minister of the parish, is said to have had his first interview with the individual whom, in his Antiquary, he describes under the appellation of "Old Mortality".

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis