Hiya! Well, this is Part 2 of my "super-old" post - but I have to admit, it's actually not nearly as old the Clava Cairns. For the which I do apologise in advance. But it IS something much older than most of the castles we visit, and it tells a little bit about the area of Scotland where we live. So up this week is the Dunbuie (or Dunbowie) Hill Fort.
Bask in the awe-inspiring architecture! Behold, the intricate styling and ornate crenellations! Ok, so . . . let's just say the fort's seen better days. But seriously, I'd noticed these hills, or rather what looks more like two peaks of the same hill, up behind Dumbarton (the town where we live). I really didn't know there was anything up there, until one day I climbed up to Dumbarton Castle (the giant rock thing in the picture below) and read one of the bronze plaques on the top. It mentioned a "Dunbuie Hill Fort" and pointed straight toward the Craigs outside of town. A little internet sleuthing later, and I had figured out that it matched the two hills I had noticed. Well, a few days ago we had a rare Scottish summer appear (summer in Scotland makes brief, tantalising appearances rather than actually staying for a season). So I decided I'd make a quick hike up to the hill. There are no trespassing laws in Scotland, so I grabbed the camera and off I went.
It actually didn't take as long to reach the tops as I thought it might, although I did have to search for a path through the gorse bushes. Once I got there, the views were definitely worth it. Dunbuie Hill Fort was excavated once, in 1896, by the Helensburgh Naturalist and Antiquarian Society (now defunct). I found the report of the Society online; some pretty entertaining stuff, if that's your thing. To add my own interpretation to what they record, apparently those learned folk were just itching to dig somewhere. Lo and behold, someone mentioned that they had seen signs of an old building on the hill - so off they went to get permission from the landowner, and boom! They had a dig on their hands.
As you can see from the picture, they did indeed find an old fort on top of the hill. Just exactly how old is the question, however. There's a possibility it could be Roman, although that doesn't seem particularly likely. The Society seemed to conclude that it was probably post-Roman, but how much after seems difficult to tell. Dumbarton Castle, only a couple of miles away from Dunbuie Hill, was the capitol of the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde, in the 600s. So perhaps the fort predated the castle? Or was perhaps a watchtower associated with it? Impossible to tell. Making the job a little more difficult, while the Helensburgh Society doubtless did a good job of the dig itself, they found comparatively few artifacts - and virtually nothing (metal implements, pottery shards, etc) that would help to date the fort. On top of it all, apparently there was some sort of controversy later over the possibility of some forgery of some of the stuff they did find. I didn't have enough time to do all the research - and it's not like there's an immense body of literature on what was likely a pretty obscure site.
Regardless, I find the hill fascinating in an understated way. It was probably fairly typical of the time period - a small, simple fortification in a place with great visibility. The Society records that the stone walls (about 10 feet thick) are still there, just buried now beneath the dirt. There were no signs of any other structures inside, except possibly a small guardhouse. Having been on the hill, there wouldn't have been much room for more. The hill is not that big; about the size of a smallish house. What the fort would have offered, however, is great visibility. A big stretch of the Clyde is visible, with Dumbarton and the Castle spread out below the hill. Dumbuck Hill, now cloven in two by a quarry, lies just to the east, and the line of the Craigs is to the north. Looking up to the northeast, you can see the Vale of Leven, with Loch Lomond just beyond (although the loch itself isn't visible). Any ancient garrison of the fort, whether they were Romans, ancient Britons, or whomever, would have had a clear line of sight for miles.
The hill itself consists of two small peaks, one slightly lower than the other, separated by a shallow gully. The eastern peak, I think, is the one that actually held the fort. It's the larger and higher of the two, shaped rather like a very shallow bowl; I imagine that's the impression of the stone walls. The fort is clearly long past, although people still use it in a similar way today - I found the ashes of a small campfire on the top of the hill. It would make a fantastic campsite even now, and I wonder if that's how, so many centuries ago, it got started - as a campsite for some watchman, then a small fort or watchtower.
Well, it's certainly not the most glamorous site I've visited; but Dunbuie Hill Fort did have a kind of rustic charm to it, and is a great place to look out over the town of Dumbarton. A short, relatively easy hike - I was up and down in about an hour and a half. Just don't disturb the sheep!