Dunollie Castle in Argyll, Scotland

Dunollie Castle perches on a 90 foot outcrop of rock about a mile outside the beautiful town of Oban in Argyll, Scotland—one of my favorites. A castle stood here many centuries before the town existed. Dunollie (from the Gaelic Dùn Ollaigh) was the home of kings and chiefs and was a center of politics and trade. The hilltop where the castle sits was occupied even in prehistoric times. Excavations show that a fort sat on the site during the Bronze Age. This was one of the capitals of the Kingdom of Dál Riata in the 7th and 8th centuries. Kings of the Cenél Loairn tribe ruled over the area of what is today called Lorn.

View of Dunollie from the ferry.
 We visited Dunollie in July 2013. First we took a tour of the 1745 House which is set up like a museum. I'll do a post on it later. After leaving the house, we walked up a trail behind the house to the hilltop where the castle sits. It's a really nice walk, though steep in places.
Trail leading from the 1745 House up to the castle.
 The Irish annals record that Dun Ollaigh was attacked or burned down three times, in 686, 698 and 701. According to the records, it was rebuilt in 714 by Selbach mac Ferchair who at the time was King of Dál Riata and who had destroyed the site in 701. Experts say this early fortification was abandoned sometime after 900.

Memorial to Alexander James MacDougall in the castle's courtyard.
Dunollie is known as the primary seat of the MacDougall Clan. The MacDougalls were a significant force in Scottish history and at one point, are said to have owned a third of Scotland.

 When Somerled, King of the Isles, died in 1164, Dunollie passed to his eldest son, Dugall. It became the seat of the Clan MacDougall, with the chiefs titled the Lords of Lorn. The MacDougall Clan, one of the most ancient clans in Scotland was, at that time, the most powerful clan in the Western Isles of Scotland. They were also appointed overlords of the Norse territories of the Isles. Known as kings, Duncan and Ewan held much power from Dunollie to the Outer Hebrides. They held most of Argyll and the islands of Mull, Lismore, Jura, Tiree, Col and many others.

View from the courtyard of the road and shoreline below.

Detail from a sign on the site.

 The first five MacDougall chiefs built eight castles around the Argyll mainland and the islands. Alexander, the 3rd chief, was married to the sister of John Balliol, who became the King of Scotland from 1292 to 1296. This proved to be the MacDougalls' downfall when the Balliols lost their supremacy to Robert the Bruce.

Click to enlarge.

Detail from a sign on the site showing how the castle probably looked in its heyday.
When the MacDougalls came into conflict with Robert the Bruce in 1308 at the Battle of the Pass of Brander, they lost their lands and power. Much of it was given to the Campbells. Though the MacDougalls didn't recover all their territory, they were still an important clan, involved in national politics and various causes. The MacDougalls regained Dunollie and some other estates in the late 14th century.

This is me in the cellar or basement of the castle. It has a vaulted ceiling.
The keep measures approximately 39 feet by 37 feet on the outside. The walls are between 9 feet and 11 feet thick. This vaulted ground floor room might have been used for storage. There are traces of two slit windows looking into the courtyard.

The stairs leading to the upper floors.

Thanks for visiting Dunollie with me! Next time, I'll show you more of the interior of Dunollie Castle and share more history. :)


Known for his wicked wit, fierce loyalty, and skills in battle, Robert "Rebbie" MacInnis, the Earl of Rebbinglen, loves freedom and has no plans of marrying anytime soon. But when his father, a powerful Scottish marquess, signs a contract betrothing Rebbie to an earl's young daughter, he is furious. If he has to marry, he's determined to choose his own bride, though he has no inkling who he would wish to wed until fate intervenes to remind him of one fair-haired, nameless beauty and the passionate night they spent together years ago. A night forever etched in his memory. 

Lady Calla Ferguson, a penniless widow with a young son, is forced to seek employment as her cousin's companion in order to pay her late husband's massive gambling debt. Having been ignored or mistreated most of her life, Calla has become a resourceful survivor who will stop at nothing to get what she wants—safety and security for her son and herself. Wealthy merchant, Claybourne cares little for the money the Earl of Stanbury owed him; he simply wants the earl's beautiful, voluptuous widow and he'll do whatever it takes to get his hands on her, even kidnapping and blackmail. 

When Rebbie happens upon Claybourne abducting Calla, he rescues her and hides her in a secluded castle deep in the wild Scottish Highlands. Calla conceals her passionate spirit beneath reserve and duty, along with closely-guarded secrets which, if exposed, could ruin both her life and her son's. Years ago, she lost her heart to a dark-eyed stranger she never thought to see again, but now he's her protector. Rebbie craves another pleasurable night like the one they shared in the past, and she cannot resist the fiery passion that echoes deep in her heart and soul. Soft but strong, Calla sparks within Rebbie a desperate hunger and a need to protect her. But will her secrets tear them apart? 

Excerpt from My Rebel Highlander

Wearing his belted plaid kilt, Rebbie stepped out of the Breakstane Inn and approached his saddled horse where the groom from the livery stable held him. He secured his clothing behind his saddle. Dreading the trip to Draughon and the conversation to come with Barclay, he hoisted himself into the saddle.
A scream sliced through the air.
"What the devil?" His gaze scanned the village.
Down the street, in front of the livery, a man carried a kicking, screaming woman into the stables.
"Hold him," Rebbie said to the groom, then leapt off the horse and ran forward, determined to help her, whoever she was. She wore a black cloak and cowl but a lock of blond hair slipped free. Given her petite size, the woman looked like… Nay, it couldn't be.
He withdrew his sword and charged into the stables.
"Release her, you whoreson!" Halting, Rebbie squinted into the dimness, waiting for his eyes to adjust.
"This is none of your concern, Highlander." The man's voice grated from the shadows.
Rebbie now easily discerned the man's gangly silhouette. He held Calla, his hand over her mouth muffling her protests. Her eyes wide with terror, she kicked and elbowed her captor, but he didn't loosen his hold.
"Release Lady Stanbury or I will cut you down where you stand!"
Laughing, the man shoved Calla into one of the stalls, latched the door, then drew his basket-hilt broadsword.
"Rebbie!" Calla rattled the door as if trying to open it. "Nay! Watch out!"
"Have no fear. I'll get you out," he told her. "Once I kill this whoreson."
Claybourne charged and thrust the blade, but Rebbie easily deflected his blow. The man was tall and thin, dressed in well-tailored dark brown breeches and doublet with an expensive collar at his neck. Obviously, some sort of laird. Rebbie struck out, his blade nicking the man's arm through his fine doublet. Blood soaked the exposed white linen of his shirt.
The man flicked a glance down at his arm. "Bastard!"
Rebbie sent him a malicious grin and sliced again but the man dodged back.
"Hastings!" the knave yelled through the wide, open doorway toward the street.
Och. So he needed backup, did he?
Rebbie pressed his attack and the man fled the stables. Rebbie ran to the stall where Calla was confined and opened the door. "Are you well?"
"What the devil is going on?"
Tears glinting in her eyes, she shook her head. "Is he gone?"
"He ran outside. Come. I must get you back to Draughon." He offered his elbow and she slid her hand around it. "What are you doing here alone?"
"I'm not alone. The driver, maid, and guard are with the coach down the street," she said, her voice shaky. "I came to pick up Lady Elena's dress."
He didn't have time to ask what she was doing so far from the coach and the others in her party. Wielding his bloody-tipped sword, Rebbie glanced this way and that as he led her from the stables. On the muddy street, at twenty yards, the whoreson stood talking to another man. Almost a half-dozen others stood behind him.
"Grab her!" he yelled and charged forward with the rest of his men.
"What the hell?" Rebbie muttered and rushed Calla to his horse. Why were these men after her? He didn't have time to ask questions. After sheathing his sword, he lifted her into his saddle and leapt on behind her. He headed the horse toward Draughon, but when he rounded the bend at the edge of the village, several armed men on horseback waited in the road, too many for him to best alone while protecting Calla.
Rebbie drew his sword and slashed at the first man to approach. The blade sliced his forearm and he fell back, screaming. The other men on horseback formed a barricade across the road leading to Draughon, swords drawn. With Calla on his horse, he couldn't risk riding head-long through them. She could be grievously injured or killed.
His only other alternative was a well-worn trail leading to the right. Mayhap he could circle around to Draughon. He guided Devil in that direction.
"Stop them!" the whoreson yelled behind them.
Holding Calla tightly before him, Rebbie urged the stallion into a breakneck gallop across the moor. The horse relished a good run anyway. Rebbie tried to figure out how to circle back to Draughon Castle, but then he remembered that the River Tay lay in their path. The bridge was further back. Damnation. Now what was he going to do? With all the rain, the river was too deep and swollen to wade through.
He glanced back at the dozen or more pursuers in the distance. "Hell," he growled through clenched teeth. Why were they so determined to capture Calla?
As they crossed a grassy field, Rebbie gave the horse his head. Devil leapt a stone dyke, then galloped along another muddy road. He followed it northwest for a mile or two. Moments later, he slowed Devil, not wanting to lather him, and glanced back. The whoresons were nowhere in evidence, but Rebbie still had to keep ahead of them.
Or mayhap he could outsmart them.
A thick wood lay ahead. The dark green leaves would provide good cover. He directed the horse into the trees, hoping to hide while their pursuers rode by. Then, they could double back and head south again toward Draughon.
Devil's breath whooshed in and out. 'Twas the only sound within the quiet forest, but not loud enough for anyone approaching to hear over their own horses' hoof-beats… if anyone should appear.
Rebbie focused on the road he could see through the branches, but the sweet floral scent of Calla's unbound hair wafted up his nose, distracting him.
"Did he hurt you?" he asked her.
"Nay. I thank you for rescuing me." Her soft, feminine voice grabbed at something within him, making him want to protect her with every last ounce of strength he possessed.
"I'm glad I was there to help." He couldn't imagine what the knave would've done to her if he hadn't shown up. Raped her? Killed her?
None of the bastards passed by on the road beyond the wood. He listened for hoof-beats in the distance, but all was quiet.
"Where the devil are they?" Rebbie grumbled. "No doubt lying in wait for us to return. How would he know we need to get to Draughon Castle?"
When Calla didn't respond, he frowned, growing more and more curious. "Who is that bastard? He's a laird, is he not?"
Calla nodded and turned toward him a bit. "A wealthy merchant. Edward Claybourne. But, aye, he owns land."
"And why is he trying to abduct you?"
Her back to him, she faced forward again and dropped her head, as if she were staring down at her hands.
"Come now, Calla. Tell me," he said gently, eyeing her lush flaxen curls, wanting to bury his hand in them and experience the softness of her.
He hadn't asked if he could call her Calla, but given their past intimacy, he thought 'twas not out of the question. And he certainly wanted her to call him Rebbie.
She turned her head, her profile clear. "Claybourne and my late husband often gambled. Stanbury lost everything he owned—which wasn't entailed—to him and grew deeply in debt before he died. I've been repaying Claybourne, but 'tis not enough."
"'Slud!" Rebbie shook his head, his heart sinking, just imagining the horrible situation she was entangled in. "What a bastard." Both her husband and Claybourne.
She nodded.
Hell. That had to mean Calla was penniless, then. That was why she was working as a companion to Elena. How could her husband leave her in such dire straits? Had he been daft? This Claybourne was evidently a piece of work, trying to abduct her because he'd won everything from her late husband. What an evil-hearted whoreson. He'd best not touch Calla again or Rebbie would slice him limb from limb. He couldn't risk riding back south with Calla. He couldn't fight Claybourne's garrison singlehandedly and still protect her.
Her feminine scent, a blend of roses and lavender, teased his nose. Damnation, but she was bewitching. He wanted to bury his nose in her hair and breathe her in. She would of a certainty think him mad. He would also love to smell the delicate skin of her neck, then kiss her there. Taste her. Hell. He almost growled the word.
"We'll ride northwest." Rebbie needed to distract himself from her allure and focus on how best to keep her safe.
"Where will we go?" she asked. Despite the dangerous situation, he found himself liking the sound of we coming from her lips. Was he daft? There was no we.
"I have a small castle deeper in the Highlands," he said. "Tummel Castle, about forty miles from here…"

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Barbara Monajem said...

I hope to visit Argyll soon, so this post comes at a great time. I'll put Dunollie on my itinerary. :)

Amy Jarecki said...

Excellent post and pictures,Vonda! Thank you for sharing :-)

Beppie Harrison said...

How I love these brief travelogues, and how I wish I could pop into your pocket when you're standing there in these fascinating places! Thanks for letting us come along with you . . .

Angela Johnson said...

Thanks, Vonda, for sharing the photos. Being wheelchair bound makes traveling abroad difficult, so I really appreciate seeing such sights up close. I look forward to your next installment.

Lani said...

Oh, gosh, I just love the pictures! Thank you for sharing the history as well, it makes the pictures even more real!

Anonymous said...

I loved the history and the photos! You're looking great!! Tweeted.

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thanks so much, everyone, for checking out my post!! Barbara, hope you have fun on your trip to Argyll! It's at the top of the list of my favorite places in Scotland. Amy, hope you get to visit it one day soon! Beppie, I'm so glad you're enjoying them! I like to share with all of you. Angela, so sorry to hear you're wheelchair bound. I'm glad you like the posts. Lani, I also love learning the history of a place. Ella, thank you for the wonderful compliment!!

Vanessa Holland said...

What an awesome place. Very haunting. Thanks for posting!

Gwyn Brodie said...

Great post, Vonda! Though I've seen Dunollie from a distance on the ferry, I can't wait to see it up close! Loved the photos!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thanks, Vanessa!! So glad you liked it!

Gwyn, thanks!! When you visit, you'll love it!

Mary Morgan said...

As always, absolutely lovely post, Vonda. Thanks for taking me home to Scotland.

Vonda Sinclair said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Mary! Scotland feels like home to me too.