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Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky outcrop on the north-east coast of Scotland, about two miles south of Stonehaven. Its recognizable architecture is 13th century, but an earlier castle was built on this site by Caledonian tribes by 84 AD. Dunnotar played a central role in the history of Scotland from the Middle Ages through to the Enlightenment, due to its strategic location overlooking the shipping lanes to northern Scotland and also being situated on a fairly narrow coastal terrace that controlled land movements, and controlling the land access to the ancient Causey Mounth, the only medieval route from the coastal south to Aberdeen. The site, now owned by private interests but open to the public, is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.
The ruins of the castle are spread over a three acre area virtually surrounded by sheer cliffs which drop to the North Sea 50 metres below. This L plan castle is accessed via a narrow strip of land joining the mainland and a steep path leading up to the massive gatehouse. The cliffs and headland formations which extend miles to the north and south are home to tens of thousands of pelagic birds, making this stretch of Scottish coast a notable bird sanctuary of northern Europe from the standpoint of total bird populations and diversity of species. The 1990 film Hamlet starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close was shot there.