IT HAS been a royal refuge, a fierce fortress and a prison.

Dumbarton Castle, just a few miles from Glasgow, is one of Scotland’s most fascinating strongholds with a dramatic and violent past

It is the oldest-recorded castle in Britain, perched on a 240-feet high volcanic rock with spectacular views over the Firth of Clyde.

Dumbarton Rock is a ‘plug’ which filled in the crater of a volcano active around 350 million years ago. Legend has it that Merlin visited King Riderch of Strathclyde here – it was known then as ‘Alt Clut’ and stood at the centre of an ancient kingdom.

The imposing castle has been sacked by Vikings, became a cornerstone of medieval royal power and was later used as a military base and a prison, with some fascinating connections to the Scottish Wars of Independence and Mary Queen of Scots, who sailed to France from here as a child in 1548.

The castle, which is managed by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), has reopened for the first time since it closed its doors in March due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Tickets must be booked in advance – check the website for details.)

Read more: Hollywood stars caught on camera in Glasgow tailor's

It was used by Alexander II of Scotland around 1220, as a defence against the threat from Norway, whose kings ruled the Hebrides and the islands in the Clyde.

In 1305, Sir John Menteith, keeper of Dumbarton Castle, caught Sir William Wallace and handed him over to the English for trial and execution.

The castle has sheltered royal rulers - David II (in 1333–4) and Mary Queen of Scots (in 1548) until ships could take them to France and safety.

Substantial new artillery fortifications built in the 1600s and 1700s are what visitors see today. Nothing visible survives from the Dark Ages fortress, nor from the medieval castle. It was used as a garrison as recently as the Second World War.

Visitors today can see the French Prison, the Governor’s House, built for John Kennedy, 8th Earl of Cassilis, and the remains of its ‘twin peaks’ - White Tower Crag and the Beak.

In 1953, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited on a rainy April day.

The officers and men of a couple of regiments were lining the outer gate of the castle, alongside sea, army and air force cadets, Guides, and the Home Guard and Civil Defence services. Children perched precariously one-third of the way up the rock to get a good view of the Royal visitor.

Glasgow Times: Dumbarton Castle Dumbarton Castle

The ceremonies that followed included the Keeper of the Castle, Major-General Alexander Telfer-Smollett, presenting himself along with his son, Major Patrick Telfer-Smollett, who was bearing a cushion on which the castle keys lay. Maj-Gen Telfer-Smollett then took the cushion and, on bended knee, presented it to the Queen.

Among the guests at the ceremony of the keys was Mrs Jane McGregor, who had been born at the castle in 1870, the daughter of a master gunner who had fought in the Crimean War. Mrs McGregor and her sister, Mrs Jessie Jennings, 90, lived together in the town, and both had been present at the visit in 1935 of the late King George VI and the Queen Mother.