Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology

  14th Century Stonghold and Film Set - A Virtual Tour of Doune Castle

Ivanhoe has been there, Monty Python's knights in search of a grail, and Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall, the star crossed lovers from Outlander. Castle Doune, near Stirling in Scotland, has developed a certain sort of fame as film location (1).

In Outlander, the castle stands in for Castle Leoch, seat of Collum MacKenzie, chief of the clan, and his brother Dougal who is a supporter of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. It fits then, that in real history the castle was held for the prince by a McGregor of Glengyle in 1745.

If you are interested to see where Claire spent the first weeks after she went through a magic time-travel portal stone, follow me on a virtual tour of the castle:

Doune Castle, north front

Contrary to most castles in Scotland that have been altered over the times, Doune is the product of a single building period and has survived relatively unchanged until today.

It was built by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (1340-1420, duke since 1398), son of King Robert II of Scotland and regent of Scotland in all but name since 1388, ruling first for his father, then his brother Robert III, and finally for his nephew, James I, who was a prisoner of the English. Robert Stewart became Earl of Menteith by marriage to the heiress Margaret Graham, and was granted the lands on which Castle Doune now stands in 1361. The castle was at least partially complete in 1381 when a charter was signed there. I'll get back to the history of the caste in another post.

The courtyard

Doune was obviously planned as courtyard with buildings on all sides, but the only buildings that were completed are the gatehouse tower with the rooms of the lord and his family, the great hall, and the kitchen tower with kitchen and guest rooms. Those buildings range along the north and part of the west side. Doune can be seen as development towards the palaces arranged around a courtyard like Linlithgow, built in the 15th and 16th century.

Hall and Gatehouse Tower, seen from the courtyard

Assumedly, Albany had originally intended to build his personal lodgings at the south side of the yard (there are three unusually large windows in the curtain wall), but they were never completed and he lived in the Gate Tower.

The advantage of the large courtyard is that film crews can set up timber buildings against the curtain walls. I've spotted a few in Outlander. They also replaced the lawn with mud.

Doune Castle, Gatehouse Tower

The gatehouse tower has a size of 18 x 13 metres (59x43 ft) and rises to 29 metres (95 ft) (2). It held the lord's hall, the lady's chamber, and several more rooms. The function of most of those can only be guessed. There is a projecting round tower with an additonal rectangular tower on the north-east corner which holds the latrines and chimney flues, so the duke and duchess got ensuite rooms with central heating.

Another possible function could have been to shoot missiles at attackers of the gate - see the arrowslit windows. The somewhat older Dunstaffnage Castle once had a corner tower serving that purpose.

Entrance archway

The 14 metres long vaulted passage was once secured by timber doors and cross-bared iron grilles, so called yetts, on both ends. The outer one can still be seen. There is also a slit in the roof from which one could shoot arrows and any intruder. On the right side is the porter's room which serves as castle shop today, on the left a prison cell. The entire entrance was separated from the rest of the castle, and the thick stone vault protected the tower from fire.

The gate vault also makes for a scenic entrance to the castle to ride through.

Kitchen Tower, seen from the courtyard

The kitchen tower can be considered as second tower house, measuring 17 x 8 metres (56x26 ft). The kitchen is on hall level, beneath are storage cellars. The kitchen had an oven for baking bread, and an 18 ft wide fireplace, large enough to roast entire animals on a spit. The vaulted ceiling has smoke holes above the windows, and there are slop-drains on one side. The Jacobite garrison built a bread oven in the kitchen, but that doesn't remain.

The great fireplace in the kitchen

A staircase leads to the so-called Royal Appertments on the upper floor. They are also known as Queen Mary's Chamber, though we can't be sure she ever visited Doune Castle. The chamber plus adjacent sleeping closet and latrine were fit to host guests of high rank. The location over the kitchen made the rooms some of the warmest in the castle.

Servery, seen from the entrance to the Great Hall

There is a triangular anteroom which connects the kitchen tower with the great hall: the servery. You can see two arched serving hatches on the left, big enough to pass a roast hog through; a feature unusual for the period. In other castles like Caernarfon, the way between kitchen and hall was much longer. Looks like Albany wanted his food steaming hot.

The Great Hall

The great hall is an impressive room of 20 x 8 metres (66x28 ft) and 12 metres (39 ft) high, with a vaulted timber roof (reconstructed in the 19th century) with a louver in the middle. The hall has no fireplace and was probably heated by a central fire in a fire basket like the one you can see today, though I wonder how much use that would be in a room of such dimensions. A roaring fireplace or two should have worked better. Well, maybe they had enough mulled wine to get warm from the inside. :-)

Great Hall with entrance and minstrel's gallery

The wooden minstrel's gallery is also reconstructed. A staircase leads down to the buttery where the wine and beer were kept. The walkways on the battlements could also be reached from the gallery.

Five windows of different shapes lit the hall. The large dais window in the back where the lord would have sat, hides a little side door to a latrine.

The double fireplace in the Lord's Hall

The large room above the entrance in the gatehouse tower and adjacent to the great hall is called the Duke's Hall. It would have been used for smaller parties and audiences. The room has an unusual double fireplace which is original, but the furniture dates to the renovation of 1883. A staircase on the north side gives access to the minstrel's gallery and the battlements.

The Duchess' Hall

The hall above the Lord's Hall is supposed to have been the duchess' hall. At the courtyard side is some sort of large alcove that may have been screened from the rest of the room and served as oratory or private chapel (on the right side of the photo). On the wall is a so-called credence which held the consectated vessels and a basin with holy water. There would have been a small altar as well. The ceiling of the hall is missing today.

The duchess' bedchamber

The round tower at to the Gatehouse Tower (see photo above) housed the bedchambers of the duke and duchess. The chimney flues were not enough, both rooms also got fireplaces.

Those castles were cold; no wonder people back then wore several layers of clothes all the time. Claire's dresses are not only pretty, they'd be warm, too.

Cellars in the Kitchen Tower

Originally, the topmost floor might have been divided into smaller chambers for the duke's family and higher ranking members of the staff and the duchess' ladies-in-waiting. A man of the social status of the Duke of Albany would have had a permanent staff of some 50 people - most of those had to bed down in the great hall and kitchen.

The Duke of Albany died in 1420, and both dukedom and regency passed to his son Murdoch (born 1362). When King James I finally returned to Scotland after his ransom had been paid in 1424, he was not happy about the way some nobles had taken up control of the kingdom. He had Duke Murdoch of Albany and his sons arrested for treason and executed in 1425. Doune Castle fell to the Crown and served as hunting lodge for the Scottish monarchs during the next decades.

Another shot of the castle from the outside

This is an extended rewrite of a post from 2009.
1) Some Winterfell scenes of the pilot to A Game of Thrones have been filmed in Doune, but the pilot was never aired and filming of the series took place in Ireland, among other locations. I don't know if any of the Winterfell scenes taken in Doune remained in the season 1.
2) All measurements according to Wikipedia. The Historic Scotland guidebook gives no measurements.

Doreen Grove: Doune Castle; guidebook by Historic Scotland, Edinburgh 2007

  The Volcano that Burped - The Blue Dome near Eschwege

The Blue Dome (Blaue Kuppe) near Eschwege in northern Hessia is an interesting geological feature. It is a 10-12 million year old volcano that never really erupted but got stuck in the surrounding sandstone instead. The area was used as quarry from the 17th to th 20th century which shaped most of the bizarre rock formations. Today it is a Nature Reserve.

Blue Dome, view into the south bassin

We have to go back in time a bit. The uppermost rock layer in the area is sandstone which got deposed there during the Triassic period (250-200 million years ago). It's the same strata that can be found in other places along the Werra / Weser river - the Blue Dome is only a few miles from the Werra (1).

The north bassin (with sheep)

Some 12 million years ago, a volcano started its way up through the sandstone. This happened frequently in the area - the Meissner mountains include layers of basalt from volcanic activity during that time. But in case of the Blue Dome, the volcano never truly erupted.

Detail shot of the south bassin

Instead, the volcano just burped, so to speak, leaving behind three conduits of basalt among the sandstone. The magma got stuck in the sandstone strata where it cooled into the usual longish hexagonal pieces. Only a bit of tuff reached the surface.

Basalt and buchite (right), tilted by shifting of the ground

The surrounding sandstone was changed by the heat and pressure; the quartz molecules in the stone turned to a molten glass stone called buchite, also known as 'fried sandstone'. The basalt is rich in olivine (a magnesium iron silicate), which gives a ochre tinge to the usually blueish basalt (2).

Closeup of the olivine basalt

What once was a perfect dome eroded over time. Further changes were made by quarrying the sandstone and basalt, so that we now have two bassins with remaining rock formations.

Basalt, buchite, sandstone, and a tuff layer on top

The rock formations and their interesting genesis already attracted the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). I couldn't find the exact date of his visit, but since he studied in Göttingen, it could have been some time around 1789. He also visted geological formations at the Rhine during that time.

Remaining wall of the north bassin against the light

The Blue Dome is today a Nature Reserve because of its interesting geology. There is a way along the ridge of the bassins, but the bassins themselves are officially off-limit. *Looks if someone watches her going a bit closer to the rocks. Sneaks around and takes some photos.*

South bassin, another detail shot from the other side

1) I wonder if I should write a post detailing the development from the Variscan orogeny and the Zechstein sea to the Mesozoicum since I've refered to these things in several posts.
2) Olivine usually is greenish in colour, but when the iron comes in contact with air, it will rust.


  Castles, Celts, and some Churches - Summer Tours 2016

I undertook no larger journey this year, but my father and I - sometimes together with some friends - did a number of day tours and hiking trips which accumulated a fair amount of photos. So there will be a Back With Booty post.

Of, course, we can haz castles and castle ruins. *grin*

Castle Scharfenstein

Castle Scharfenstein near Leinefelde in Thuringia dates to the early 13th century, though it suffered from a severe fire in the 1430ies and was rebuilt in a more moderate scale. Like so many historical buildings in the former GDR it was neglected, but restoration is going on since 2006 and by now the castle is in pretty good repair.

Castle Altenstein near Bad Sooden-Allendorf

The castle is known as Altenstein (Old Rock) or Altenburg (Old Castle). It's a pretty obscure 14th century castle, and I couldn't find much information about its history. Its lords were vassals of the landgraves of Thuringia in the 15th century, but the castle eventually fell to Hessia. It was returned to the county of Thuringia after WW2. Today, only some ruins are hidden in the woods.

The great hall of Castle Grebenstein

The walls of the impressive great hall (palas) of Castle Grebenstein near Kassel still survive. The 13th century castle played an important role in the ongoing quarrels between the landgraves of Hessia, the archbishops of Mainz and the landgraves of Thuringia. It was in possession of the Counts of Everstein in the late 13th century who also held Castle Polle at the Weser. Thus Castle Grebenstein is another knot in the net of the connections of local noble families.

Remains of Castle Greene

The keep of Castle Greene has been restored like in many other castles, but only some ruins are left of the curtain walls and other buildings. The castle controlled the river Leine and has seen a fair amount of interesting history which I'll have to hunt down.

Castle Tannenburg on a hazy summer day

This one, situated near the village of Nentershausen in Hessia, has been restored and offers a nice place for weddings and other celebrations. They also serve Mediaeval food, though adapted to modern tastes - you can get coffee. *grin* When I asked for a guidebook, the reply was that some historians are working on it but it'll take time because there are so many contradictory sources. I know that problem only too well.

Castle Sachsenburg in the Harz mountains

Of the famous Castle Sachsenburg near Walkenried, one of the main Harz fortresses of the emperor Heinrich IV, only a few ruins remain. He was forced to dismantle the castle after the peace with the rebellious Saxon nobles, and it was never restored. Though I'm sure there is more hiding under the earth than one can see - a bit of archaeogical digging should prove interesting. Anyone got the funds? ;-)

We also revisited two castles.

Castle Weidelsburg, the western hall which had been scaffolded in during our first visit

When I visited the Weidelsburg in 2008, repair work had been going on and the western keep had been scaffolded in. I wanted to return once the whole sandblasting, mortar replacing and cleaning of brambles in the zwinger would be done with. The castle looks really nice now - and it was impressive already before.

Hanstein Castle

The Hanstein is not so far from where I live, so it was not a big deal to go there again with my new camera. The posts about that castle need to be rewritten, and I could do with some additional photos.

Remains of the palatine seat in Gelnhausen

Another visit brought us to the palatine seat in Gelnhausen. It played an important role in the history of the Staufen family (esp. in the feud of the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa with Heinrich the Lion), which is why I wanted some photos of that one for a long time. I had been there as child, so it was a trip down the memory lane as well. It seemed larger to me back then.

There was more than castles, of course.

Glauberg, the tumulus

On the way back from Gelnhausen we stopped at the famous Celtic Museum on the Glauberg. That's another place that had been on my wish list for quite some time. Those Celts are just fascinating.

Glauberg, head shot of the famous statue

And here's the guy which graces the cover of at least two thirds of all books about the Celts, the 'Celtic prince with the leaf crown'. The statue probably stood on top of the tumulus once; now it is inside the museum. I was surprised that the guy isn't much taller than I am - somehow I got a mental image of a 8-10 feet tall statue.

The Romanesque church of Wahlshausen monastery

St. Mary's Church in Wilhelmshausen near Kassel is all that remains of the monastery of Wahlshausen. It is another of those pretty Romanesque churches you can find in German villages. It is also the burial site of the last Lord of Sichelnstein, Bardo, who died in 1239 (though the tomb doesn't remain).

Salzwedel, the castle keep, with the Monk's Church in the background left

Salzwedel had been an important town involved in the salt trade in Mediaeval times, and member of the Hanseatic League. Unfortunately, it was situated in the GDR and thus neglected. Much has been done after the reunion, but it can't rival its big sister Lüneburg.

Salzwedel, interior of St.Laurent Church

The architecture is mostly brick, typical for the nothern German Hanseatic towns. The keep of the castle remains as well as several churches of Romanesque and Gothic style. But else the place is rather quiet, and some houses still in bad need of repair.

Arendsee monastery, the church

The Benedictine monastery (or rather, nunnery) in Arendsee was founded in 1183. It is a beautiful example of Romanesque brick architecture. The church survives intact, but of the other buildings only ruins remain. Pretty, picturesque ruins on a hill at a lake that shone with a clear blue on that sunny afternoon.

Arendsee, remains of the monastery buildings

Lovely and peaceful.

Don't miss the second post about our summer tours below. That one gives glimpses into our hiking tours.

  Rocks, Romans, and a Ringwall - Hiking Tours in Summer 2016

I've already presented the hiking tours in the juniper heath near Rossbach and the 'Hessian Switzerland'. Here are some more we did this year.

Karst landscape in the Meissner

The tours included a second - and more extended - visit to some of the most interesting karst formations in the Meissner, with its pretty white limestone rocks and hidden sinkholes. One better remains on the official paths. *grin*

Basalt and red sandstone on the Blue Dome (Blaue Kuppe)

Another interesting geological formation is the Blue Dome (Blaue Kuppe) near Eschwege. That one consists of volcanic basalt high in olivine from 12 million years ago, which rose through a layer of coloured sandstone. It had been quarried until 1920, but today the area is a nature reserve.

Devil's chancel, Werra valley

Of course it wasn't the devil - who gets blamed for all sort of odd rocks that stick out in a landscape, but geological processes that shaped the protruding rock of coloured sandstone which offers a nice view into the Werra valley. But the name Teufelskanzel (Devil's Chancel) sounds more fun than something like 'Red Sandstone Cliff'.

Nature reserve with very old trees near Sababurg Castle

It is no genuine jungle, but the forest near the Sababurg has been left to grow since 1907 and it looks fairly primeval by now. The land had formerly been a forest where the pigs and cows would be driven to feed, so the vegetation was kept short except for some large trees. The sunlight reached the ground, and after the place became a nature reserve, younger trees could grow up between the old veterans. Some of the old ones look really twisted now.

Carolingian ringwall near Bad Sooden-Allendorf

On a mountain looming behind the town of Bad Sooden-Allendorf at the Werra, remains of a Carolingian earthen ringwall can be found. It is so overgrown that it really takes some imagination, though. Even less - that is, nothing - remains of the timber and wattle-and-daub houses inside the fortification. It was likely erected to protect the salt mines at the Werra, but little is known of the history of the site.

The Bruchteiche lakes near Bad Sooden-Allendorf

On the way up to the ringwall one passes some artificial lakes, the Bruchteiche, which were dug out in 1910 to cover the increasing need of drinking water in the spa town of Bad Sooden. The salt has been used for medical purposes since that time. The twin town of Bad Sooden-Allendorf is still a spa town today.

The Roman battlefield at Kalefeld / Harzhorn

The 3rd century battlefield at Kalefeld / Harzhorn, where Romans fought against Germans and which had been discovered in 2008, now includes a hiking way with information tablets and marked spots in the landscape that explain the battle. It is indeed very informative and interesting. And a nice walk, too.

The Oder in Bad Lauterberg / Harz

I'll leave you with some cold water: the Oder river in the spa park in Bad Lauterberg in the Harz. After the route diversions between Göttingen and the Harz which had annoyed us for several years, have finally been cleared up, we'll plan to go there more often again.

  From Paleolithic Cave to Mediaeval Church - The Steinkirche near Scharzfeld / Harz

The karst landscape in the southern Harz not only has some interesting rock formations and a castle that makes use of the limestone cliffs as curtain walls, but some caves as well. One of these can be found near the village of Scharzfeld. Excavations have shown that is was used as shelter since the Paleolithic time, but more unusual is its use as church in the Middle Ages.

Entrance of the cave

The cave is a fracture cave, formed by erosion of soluble material (gypsum) which left a cleft in the harder rock (dolomite) along natural fissures in the rock. The entrance had been much narrower; it was extended in the Middle Ages.

The way up to the cave (260 metres above NN) is rather steep and the 9 metres high cliff wall almost vertical. The dolomite rock continues above the cave for several more metres in the shape of a sort of ridge; it also forms a second wall on the side of the plateau. This defensible position may later have attracted an early Christian community.

The cliff seen from the way to the cave

Excavations on the plateau took place as early as 1925-28 under the supervision of Professor K.H. Jacob-Friesen, director of the Provincial Museum (today Lower Saxony State Museum, Hannover). He discovered a Mediaeval graveyard on the plateau which had been in use from the 8th until the 15th century, as well as some pieces of Gothic tracery and roof shingles near the cave entrance which point at some sort of man-made entrance hall to the cave church during that time. A number of pottery shards date to the 13th to 15th centuries. An excavation in 1937 was supposed prove that the cave had been a Germanic cultic site, but no finds could confirm that.

The way to the cave

Below the graveyeard, in a depth of 1.20 metres, is a layer of yellow dolomite sand, the weathering product of the dolomite rocks. It contains remains of the bones of Ice Age wildlife and flint tools dating to the late Paleolithic Magdalenian (BC 17,000 - 12,000), also known as the age of reindeer hunters. Interesting is layer of charcoal ash 2 cm thick and 80 cm in diamters within the dolomite sand in the middle of the plateau, surrounding a flat dolomite plate which is supposed to have served as some sort of Ice Age barbecue. The finds of flint tools and shards were most dense around this fireplace; even a bone needle survived - the people of the Magdalenian were known not only for their advanced flint technology (for example microlith arrow and harpoon points) but also for working bone, antler and ivory.

View into the valley

It would have been a good spot for the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers some 12,000 years ago: a nice cave with a plateau on a cliff that offers a good view over the Oder valley (1) and the Harz foothills. The valley would have been a steppe landscape at the time, populated by reindeer, bison, steppe horses, but also smaller animals like mountain hares and ptarmigan.

The cave, then much smaller in width, was likely not used as a permanent living place. The assumed scenario is that the Magdalenian hunter-gatherers followed the wandering of large herbivores, esp. reindeer and used the place during the hunting season as seasonal lodge.

Church and Hermit's Cave (to the left)

There are several legends about the beginnings of the use of the cave as church, involving a hermit and a miracle - in some versions ascribed to St. Boniface (about AD 732) - by which the cave was shaped. But there are no written sources about the early Middle Ages; the first mention of a church, the 'Chapel at the Knight's Stone', dates to the 15th century. The Gothic traceries and the pottery shards, as well as a dated coin, point at a use of the cave as church since the 13th century, and in case the door arch is indeed Romanesque, it would date the church back to the 12th century.

Closeup of the entrance

Though it is likely that a church existed there much earlier, esp. considering the fact that the site was used for burials since the 8th century. Else there would have been no reason why the surrounding villages would not simply have quarried the dolomite and gypsum kalk to build a stone church down in the valley which would have been easier to access, instead of expanding a natural cave. The cave was probably sacred already (2). It was also easier to defend and may have served as fortified church - in that function it may have played a role again in the 15th century when it appears in the chartes.

The cave church seen from the side

The importance of the church, or chapel, as family inheritance did not last long; after 1586 the cave church disappears from written documents. One can assume that it was no longer used as church after that time. We don't know if it was used for something else like storage - if that was the case it left no archaeological traces. It is also unknown since when the name Steinkirche (Stone Church) was used for the cave.

Interior of the cave

The interior of the cave is a hall of 28 metres length, and a bredth of 7 to 9 metres. The fracture cave had been to small for a church and was expanded sideways - one can see the difference of the new rock floor and the old floor which is a mix of clay and dolomite sand. The wall in the back of the cave is 6.60 metres high. There is a small cleft leading further into the bedrock. A vertical shaft in the ceiling gives some light. It once held a bell which has been transfered to the village church.

The chancel at the gate

The 6 metres wide entrance to the church had once been closed by a timber gate; one can still see the tongues and the wall plugs for the hinges. The rounded arch may have been a Romanesque feature but it can as well have been built that way because it fits the shape of the cave. At some time there must have been a Gothic entrance hall made of quarried and worked stones as the finds of tracework show. That way the chancel which has been hewn into a natural crack in the dolomite rock was inside the building. Today it is outside the gate. One female burial has been discovered directly below the chancel.

The Hermit's 'Cave

The side wall holds another small natural cave which has been extended. It forms a 3.50 metres wide chamber with a 'backdoor' leading up to the ridge. It is called the Hermit's Cave, though there is no proof that a hermit actually lived there. Maybe it had been a side altar like the ones you can find in the side chapels in Gothic churches.

The altar niche

Interest in the cave was renewed when Romantic painters like Ludwig Richter (1803-1884) traveled around in search for romantic and picturesque nature and ruins. Richter painted the cave in 1828 (complete with a shepherdess and some goats). The Steinkirche is one of the most important prehistoric monuments in Lower Saxony. Today the place is quite popular with neo-pagans.

View out of the cave (without goats and a shepherdess)

1) Not the more famous Oder at the border to Poland but a smaller river which springs in the Harz and confluences into the Rhume. Some of its seepage also feeds the Rhume springs.
2) Despite the lack of Germanic archaeological finds it is not impossible that the cave was used as sacred site by the local Germanic tribe; it's the sort of place that would have attracted a Christian missionary to turn into a church. But there is no proof that such a continuation in the use of the cave did indeed take place.


The Lost Fort is a blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK and other places, with essays on Roman and Mediaeval history illustrated with lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes. You may also find the odd essay about geology or Mediaeval literature.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)