Exploring Dumbarton Castle is a magical, fairytale grotto experience. The castle can be reached from the Clyde and Loch Lomond Cycleway. If you are taking the train on the West Highland Line to reach destinations further north then it is possible to do a stopover at Dumbarton Castle.
From Glasgow to Dumbarton on the Clyde and Loch Lomond Cycleway (Route 7) is 15 miles. The route passes through East End Park in Dumbarton. Head south through the park, passing by Dumbarton East station, to reach the castle.
Dumbarton East train station
There are two train stations in Dumbarton- Central and East. Dumbarton East is the closest to the castle. As the train approaches the station you will notice the castle perched on the chunk of volcanic rock.
The station has some architectural survivors from the Victorian era. This includes this decorative iron railing on the staircase that takes you down to street level.
The entrance and exit to the station is under the railway bridge. Take a closer look because it is magnificent! It is a triple archway; grand and decorative. It is somewhat lost and forgotten in the dingy atmosphere under the bridge, but this archway could easily be at home on a Parisian monument.
It will take just 6 to 7 minutes to cycle from here to the castle.
Sons of the Rock
The route takes you passed an attractive square of grass, trees and benches surrounded by Victorian cottages, villas and tenements.
After passing Dumbarton Football Club, which is nicknamed 'sons of the rock', the volcanic rock upon which the castle sits begins to dominate your horizon. It is a formidable and rugged piece of geology; all the more striking because of the flatness and urbanity of the town through which you have just passed through. Yes, this is a world away from the trains, delivery lorries, pubs, hairdressers and takeaways that are just minutes behind you.
Take a few moments to look up and marvel at the rock and then enjoy the view of the tranquil River Clyde.
The castle was so impenetrable that it took James IV two attempts to capture it in 1489. He was only succesful because he dragged the biggest cannon available, Mons Meg, all the way from Edinburgh Castle.
Walking through Dumbarton Castle is like no other castle experience. What came into my head when I tried to describe it was 'fairytale grotto'.
Stairs and archways lead you up and up through the interior of this living volcanic rock. There is lots of greenery, songbirds and a trickling water course that flows under the portcullis. You feel like you are in a magical rock garden.
The castle has been built to fit within the rock, taking advantage of the natural contours of the rock. It means that there are stairs and pathways cut into the rock, buildings stuck between the rock and sometimes you have to squeeze by rough chunks of rock to continue on your way.
This combination of fortress and nature is what makes Dumbarton Castle unique and exciting to explore.
When you get to the top of the rock this gives the best impression of the wildness of this place. The highest point is 74m. You feel like you are on a Highland mountain or lonely moor and that you should have brought hiking boots and a windproof jacket. The steward at the ticket office had told me "if it is bad weather it can get really bleak up here."
The views from up here are worth the effort. You can see Ben Lomond on the horizon, which was snow covered during my vist.
I enjoyed walking the outer wall to the Bower Battery. From here cannons could fire onto the route up the river. It was so calm and peaceful when I visited with barely a ripple on the water and the only sound came from seagulls.
The vast majority of the visit is outside. There are few interiors to explore. You can go inside the guardhouse where there are information panels and I spotted a fireplace with coats of arms as decoration.
The most distinctive building within the complex is the Governor's House which was covered in scaffolding during my visit. I noticed that there were curtains on the windows of the top floor, "so I asked the steward if anybody lived there. He said "the property manager used to, but there are roof problems and other issues, so it will take a few years to fix."
Getting here using the train
From Glasgow it takes about 30 minutes to reach Dumbarton East. Services are frequent at four per hour.
If you are using the West Highland Line and want to stop off to visit Dumbarton Castle be aware that the West Highland train only calls at Dumbarton Central, not Dumbarton East. This means that you will need to cycle to Dumbarton Central, just over one mile from the castle, to get a West Highland train. There is a lunchtime departure of a West Highland train from Dumbarton Central, so you could spend the morning at the castle and then catch the train northwards.
BikeSnobNYC lives in New York City and writes a humorous blog about all things cycling. His book explores a wide variety of bicycle related matters including subsets of cyclists, how to survive in traffic and bicycle maintenance. It is the wit and entertaining ranting that make this such an enjoyable book. It is mainly a good laugh, full of opinions and some hints and tips that will help your cycling life.
This book has a really nice feel with a hardback cover and quality paper. Inside there are drawings and a section of colour photos. It is a nice book to leaf through, dipping in and out of sections now and again, rather than reading it cover to cover.
It is divided into chapters that include the history of the bicycle, how to survive in traffic and how hipster culture has hijacked the bicycle and made it into a trendy object. There are some American cultural references that might be lost on some readers, but the book reveals that there are many similarities between America and Britain when it comes to cycling.
My favourite chapter is the one about the various subsets of cyclists. This explains what roadies, mountain bikers, lone wolves, contraption captains and cyclocrossers are. This includes a reason as to why other cyclists do not like other subsets of cyclists. This quote about urban cyclists gives you a good idea of the fun that the author pokes at these subsets:
"Urban Cyclists generally laugh at people who wear brightly coloured Lycra, though they fail to find equal humor in their own colour-coordinated bicycles, boutique clothing, or the fact that riding for more than a few hours in jeans is liable to turn your crotch into a microcosm of the Everglades."
I am not sure that I fit into any of these subsets, but I have seen people who seem to fall into these catagories and it was fun to spot them when out on my bike.
The author puts forward many sound arguments, particularly when it comes to cycling safety. He tries hard to convince us that cycling is not that dangerous:
"People are afraid to ride bikes in traffic, yet they do lots of other pointless and potentially deadly things all the time without even thinking about it. They take recreational drugs that can stop their hearts, they smoke cigarettes... Have you ever walked into the middle of the street while texting and almost been hit by a car?"
Although there are tips about bicycle maintenance, safety in traffic and how to lock your bicycle it is not meant as a practical book about cycling. It is more about the strong opinions of the author and a lot of this is very funny indeed. If you are looking for a bit of a laugh about cycling and you don't take it all too seriously then this book is worth a read. Due to the quality look and feel of the book I think it would also make a nice gift for a cyclist friend.
Cycling requires a vast amount of energy. Bakeries are my favourite place to go for replacement calories. I should probably be telling you that I only ever eat goji berries and kale on my cycling trips, but the truth is that for an instant energy rush I love to go into a bakery. In the same way that every French town has a boulangerie you will find that towns in Scotland always have a bakery offering a delicious array of goodies. I have visited many as I make my way around Scotland, but I have found a favourite- J.G.Ross of Inverurie.
It didn't happen right away. The first time I went into a J.G. Ross bakery I loved their rum truffle and caramel shortcake, but I didn't think to myself that this was the best bakery I hade ever experienced. I didn't even remember the name of the bakery. Luckily I had taken a note in my journal, for reference at a later date.
A pattern gradually formed where I was getting things out of certain bakeries on cycle trips and enjoying them so much that the experience was impossible to forget. I soon realised that it was always a J.G. Ross bakery that was providing these wonderful memories.
J.G. Ross is based in the North East of Scotland with its headquarters in Inverurie. There are shops all over the region with the largest concentration in Aberdeen. Stonehaven is their southernmost shop and Elgin the westernmost. The website lists all of the locations of the current shops.
It was the Insch shop where my first purchase took place. I wrote about it and took a photo of my treats.
What makes it so great?
I have concentrated on the sweet side of the bakery, but they also do bread, pies and sandwiches. I have tried the sandwiches and they are very good; better than a supermarket sandwich. They also have a range of ready meals and gluten-free products.
I hope that J.G. Ross expand to other parts of Scotland, so that wherever I go there will be a branch nearby. In the meantime whenever I am in the North East on my bike I know that I can count on J.G. Ross to be there with delicious sweet delights.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.