Dunkeld Bridge to Dunkeld Cathedral
Historic Trail Walk.
Start at Dunkeld Bridge opposite the Atholl Arms Hotel in
One of the best ways to get to know Dunkeld is by learning a bit
about its history via a short historic trail through the towns
of Dunkeld and Birnam.
Dunkeld History in brief - "Dunkeld",
means "the Fort of the Celts", was the centre of the Celtic church
and Scotland's first King, Kenneth MacAlpin, who built a church
here and in 850 he had the relics of St Columba transferred here
from lona. Dunkeld remained the centre of the Scottish church until
the relics were taken to St Andrews about 100 years later.
In 1045 King Macbeth's victory over a rebel army near Dunkeld
may account for references in Shakespeare (and others) to Birnam
Wood which is on the south side of the river (point this out). The
town has seen different phases of destruction and reconstruction to
make it what it is today.
The tour will take in the three most important landmarks in
Dunkeld - the Bridge, the Cathedral and part two will cover the
restored town centre.
Looking on the bank above and to the
right of the Tay Bank you can see the 'magazine' where the dynamite
was stored that was used for as in in the slate quarries on Birnham
Hill. Behind this is the Sundial House 1757, presently being
Dunkeld town jail - Now walk to the base of
the Dunkeld Bridge opposite the Atholl Arms Hotel - This
section under the bridge (you can see the wooden door and
ventilation slits, was the old Dunkeld town jail. It must have been
a cold and damp prison but with the possibility of a bath when the
- Now walk under the bridge upstream on the bank of the
River Tay - This is an ideal point to view the magnificent
Dunkeld bridge. Although there had been a town here for many
centuries the first time a bridge was erected was in 1809. Before
this, various Bishops of Dunkeld had tried to get a bridge built
over the river but the strong currents and the regular floods had
made it impossible.
Before the bridge was built there was a ferry service a little
up river from here. Cattle, though, had to swim across the river.
Most cows do not like to swim. One enterprising farmer had a cow
that did not mind a swim so he hired her out to herdsmen to
encourage the other cows to cross the water.
The 4th Duke of Atholl commissioned the engineer Thomas Telford
to build a bridge which was opened in 1809. The Dunkeld
Bridge took 3 years to build. A toll was charged by the Duke's
of Atholl to pay for the construction, until I 1879, when the local
people felt they had paid enough and started rioting. These riots
led to the tolls being dropped.
- Now walk upstream to the wall surrounding the Cathedral
grounds, turn right up the alleyway to Dunkeld Cathedral gates.
At the Dunkeld Cathedral gates you will see from the
plaques beside the gates that in 1730 they were cast for the
gates to Dunkeld House (the home of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl)
and later moved here in1832. Dunkeld House (today a resort hotel),
lies on the other side of the Cathedral, upstream from Dunkeld
Now walk in to Dunkeld Cathedral grounds out over to the
lawn to get a view of the Cathedral - from where you will
get a good perspective of the Cathedral. You will see that it has
been built in two main sections. It has also been laid out
east-west for religious purposes.
The area around Dunkeld Cathedral has not always
been a park, up until 1689 the town was built around the
Cathedral. During the Battle of Dunkeld 1689 (the conflict between
the Jacobites and the government) the town was destroyed with most
of the houses being burnt to the ground. Holes made by musket-ball
strikes during the battle can still be seen in the walls of the
The Dukes of Atholl took this opportunity to rebuilt the town
away from the Cathedral so they could
enjoyed uninterrupted views from their house to the
Dunkeld Cathedral Architecture - The
architectural history of Dunkeld Cathedral was recorded by Abbot
Alexander MyIn in 560, so it is better documented- than many
churches in Scotland.
The right hand part, the East Wing or Choir, is the oldest part
of the Dunkeld Cathedral. It was begun in the mid 1200s and
completed under Bishop William Sinclair in the early 1300s. Bishop
Sinclair was Bishop to both William Wallace (the film 'Brave Heart'
fame) and King Robert the Bruce. This part of the Cathedral was for
the use of the clergy only where they prayed, chanted and sang
psalms. It has gone through periods of destruction and restoration.
The last period of restoration was carried out in the early 1900s
sponsored by shipping magnet, Sir Donald Currie. Today it is cared
for by the Church of Scotland.
The western part of of Dunkeld Cathedral is the
Nave. This was where the common folk came to worship. This was
started in 1406 by Bishop Cardeny and completed 60 years later
under Bishop Lauder. During the Reformation (1560) all the riches
were removed from the church, or stolen depending which way you
like to look at it. The order was only to take valuables and not
doors and windows, but a local landowner took the chance to help
himself to the roof of the Nave. Since that time the Nave has been
a ruin. It is now cared for by Historic Scotland.
Now walk over to the Nave and the Bell Tower. At the
Nave you will see this is a "well maintained" ruin and is
regularly checked and repaired. At the east end there was an
entrance into the Choir through an elaborate wooden partition.
Since the removal of the roof the Nave has been used as a
Over on the right is the tomb of Bishop Robert
Cardeny who started the building of the Nave in 1406. Being buried
here he hoped to ensure prayers would be said for him into
eternity. He had not taken into account the Reformation.
Now focusing on the Tower - The Tower was
built by Bishop Thomas Lauder in 1469. There are some medieval
carved stones on display and one of the stones that survives from
the first church built here in the 9th century. The single
unfinished carving on it shows a man on horseback blowing a horn
and holding a spear.
Now walk back towards the Cathedral grounds entrance to
the church (the roofed portion of Dunkeld Cathedral).
When you go into the church on the left would have been the wooden
partition leading into the Nave. Now it houses the church organ.
The large stained glass window above the altar at the far end of
the church was installed during the 1909 restorations of the church
by Sir Donald Currie. The lower half of the window depicts St
Columba. The upper half is the birth of Christ.
Behind the altar - the main memorials here are
- the elaborate Black Watch memorial
- the plaque on the left is for Col Cleland who was the
commanding officer of the Cameronian troops (Government troops)
during the Battle of Dunkeld in August 1689. He was killed in
battle though his forces defeated the mainly highland clan troops
fighting fore the Jacobites.
- The main coffin here depicts the figure of the Wolf of
Badenoch, son of King Robert II. His claim to fame was that he
ransacked the towns of Forres and Elgin and burning Elgin cathedral
in 1390 as a result of a dispute with the church and the bishops of
- There is also an effigy of Bishop Sinclair who completed the
building of the east part of the cathedral.
On the left hand side is Dunkeld Cathedral museum.
Dunkeld Cathedral museum, the stones here
are from the old 9th century Celtic church like the one in the
Tower. One was used by a farmer for a gravestone until it was
restored to the church. The great display you will see on the wall
is the Atholl family memorial and the statue is of the 4th
There is a bust is of Sir Donald Currie who sponsored the
last major restoration. You will also see the gravestone of the
famous fiddler, Niel Gow.
Now leave the Dunkeld Parish Church and return to Dunkeld