Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary: Dumbarton Rock and Castle

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April 2023

On a beautiful clear winter day I went with the Glasgow Health Culture Club to walk to Dumbarton Rock from Dalmuir. We took the train from Glasgow to Dalmuir on the western outskirts. The walk began as we joined the Forth and Clyde Canal on the towpath where we were constantly avoiding cyclists on our route westwards towards Bowling. I have previously written about the Forth and Clyde Canal, which runs near my house in Glasgow.


The canal was upgraded and some parts re-instated as a project for the Millennium.  Walking along the towpath we noticed a very posh garden hut in a garden with steps down to the canal.

Erskine Bridge

We passed under the Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde which was built to replace the ferry.  It has a 305 metre (1,001 feet) main span and two 110 metre (360 feet) approach spans. There have been two known births on the bridge! The first was a boy who was born 19 September 1990. He was subsequently named Oliver Erskine Edwards in homage to the bridge. A second baby, Kiera Sarah-Marie McFettridge was born in an ambulance on the bridge on 18 January 2011. Sadly, the bridge is one of Scotland’s most notorious suicide spots and estimates suggest that more than fifteen people commit suicide there each year but barriers have now been improved.

The old ferry ran until the bridge was opened in 1971 and the Ferry Lodge is still near the banks of the river. The only ferry still running across the River Clyde is the Renfrew Ferry which is shortly to be replaced by a new bridge. The end of an era but we were lucky that the club incorporated it in a cross river walk not long ago so I can claim to have been on the last operating ferry to cross the river!

Saltings Nature Reserve

After leaving the canal towpath we joined the Clyde Coastal Path alongside the river and walked to the Saltings Nature Reserve. It is a 19 hectares local nature reserve made up of regenerated woodland and meadow. It is noted for its wetland habitats. There are areas of wildflower meadow, woodland and saltmarsh. The marshy grassland is home to hundreds of wild orchids and different types of butterflies like the Peacock and Orange-tip. We were on the path and did not see the flowers as it was too early in the season.

At the entrance to the Saltings there is a totem pole standing twelve feet high, and weighing half a tonne. This totem pole was installed in the Saltings in 2008. It is covered in designs by pupils from Gavinburn Primary School with their designs based on local history and wildlife.

Bowling Harbour

The walk continued on to Bowling Harbour overlooking the River Clyde where we had our lunch stop in sunshine. The harbour was full of boats moored but I was fascinated by a small boat which was half sunk and was garlanded in flowers. Was this a cemetery for the boat!? The Bowline is Scotland’s answer to the New York Highline and is now open at Bowling Harbour. The transformation of a disused railway viaduct into a state-of-the-art linear park has improved the walking, wheeling and cycling route at the western gateway to the Lowland canals.

Dumbarton Rock and Castle


Dumbarton Rock was formed between 330 and 340 million years ago during the early Carboniferous Period, a time of widespread volcanic activity in the area where Glasgow is now situated. The softer exterior of the volcano weathered away, leaving behind a volcanic plug of basalt.  At least as far back as the Iron Age, this has been the site of a strategically important settlement, as evidenced by archaeological finds.

The people that came to reside there in the era of Roman Britain were known to have traded with the Romans. However, the first written record about a settlement there was in a letter that Saint Patrick wrote to King Ceretic of Alt Clut in the late 5th century. From the 5th century until the 9th century, the castle was the centre of the independent Brythonic Kingdom of Strathclyde.. Alt Clut (Rock of the Clyde), the Brythonic name for Dumbarton Rock, became a metonym for kingdom. The King of Dumbarton in about AD 570 was Riderch Hael who features in Welsh and Latin works. In medieval Scotland, Dumbarton (Dùn Breatainn) which means “the fortress of the Britons” was an important royal castle. Mary, Queen of Scots stayed at Dumbarton Castle in July 1563. In 1571, amongst the cannon and guns there was a “gross culverin”, two small “batteris”, and a French “moyen” mounted for use on the walls. Another moyen was suitable for action in the field.

The Rock is steeped in history but moving on to more modern times. Today, all visible traces of the Dark-Age Alt Clut, its buildings and defences, have gone. Not much survives from the medieval castle: the 14th-century Portcullis Arch, the foundations of the Wallace Tower, and what may be the foundations of the White Tower. There is a 16th-century guard house, which includes a face which according to legend is Fause Menteith,  who betrayed William Wallace.

Dumbarton Castle is presently run by historic environment Scotland and there is a charge for visiting it.   We were very fortunate in our visit as it had been closed for some time and only opened ten days before the visit. Some of us in the group climbed the 300 steps to the top and were rewarded with magnificent views up and down the River Clyde and to the hills beyond in clear weather. There are metal staircases to both tops of the rock. It was an easy descent with sheer rock on either side of the metal steps with handrails so very safe. After leaving the Rock, we walked to Dumbarton East station for the train back to Glasgow.

It was a great day out and we were so fortunate with the weather and conquering Dumbarton Rock and Castle. Many thanks to Eleanor for organising and leading the walk. It was much appreciated.

Coming attraction; Kinlochleven.

Rock History, views steep to Clyde. Good steps


Bob Law's Blog: Crookston Castle and Pollok – walking and photography
Bob Law: The Beauty of Renfrewshire

This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary, Walks

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