Tourists love Scotland’s looming castles. Edinburghers take pride in theirs, perched high up on a rock right in the centre of town. Even Stirling has one, sitting pretty on its own royal volcanic plug. And then there’s Glasgow, with nothing but a sooty cathedral hidden among the high-rises to prove that our city even existed before the 18th century. Where’s our castle?
The key to our city’s past is, as ever, down the river Clyde. You may be unaware of its existence, but Glasgow does indeed have a castle, and it’s every bit as awesome as those other two. It towers over the waters on a massive volcanic rock. It is as ancient a seat of power as any other castle in Scotland, commanding the Clyde for over a thousand years. It just isn’t quite in Glasgow. And its shape is remarkably reminiscent of a giant arse, so it’s well worth a look.
Dumbarton Castle is perhaps where Glasgow should have been. Its name means Fort of the Britons, and it was the seat of the kingdom of Strathclyde since Roman times. Like their Welsh cousins, the Strathclyde Britons saw themselves as the last remaining natives, and remained fiercely independent well into the Middle Ages. But when Glasgow was eventually founded in the 12th century, the decision was made to put the king’s burgh not here but further down the Clyde, in a dear green place which didn’t have so much rebellious historical baggage.
Thus slighted, the castle became less important throughout the centuries. These days, Dumbarton Castle is situated among the wreckage of post-industrial Northern Britain: empty warehouses, unused docks, and a generally dodgy reputation. But it still makes for a cheap day out at just £3 for students.
To get there, simply catch the 30-minute train from Partick to Dumbarton East. Once there, exit the dilapidated station to the right, head down the dingy high street for a bit, then make for the gigantic rock with a castle on it. Hard to miss, really.
Once there, you see why it was such a desirable spot: not only can you see up the Leven river valley towards Loch Lomond, but also up and down the Clyde. And everyone coming up the Clyde can certainly see you standing on what looks like the big plastic butt from the Sir Mix-a-Lot video for “Baby Got Back.”
The castle was last attacked by Nazi air raids in 1941. These days, it’s mostly lack of interest that threatens the place. Its location means that Glaswegians have largely forgotten that they have one of Scotland’s great castles, arguably more important than Edinburgh or Stirling in its day. Also, it’s shaped like an ass, which is hilarious.