History of Dunkeld & Birnam - Introduction

Bdunkeldcathedralirnam and Dunkeld are set on opposite banks of the river Tay in the heart of Perthshire's Big Tree Country surrounded by hills and beautiful countryside and forests. The two towns of Birnam and Dunkeld were only joined in 1809 with the building of the Dunkeld Bridge by Thomas Telford across the River Tay.

Dunkeld is thought to date back to the sixth century when a monastery was founded beside the River Tay. Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of Scotland, moved the bones of St Columba to Dunkeld around the middle of the 9th century, which established Dunkeld as the first ecclesiastical capital of medieval Scotland . Building of the present day Dunkeld Cathedral began in the 12th century and additions were added up to the 16th. Looking at the architecture, you can see the different styles of the additions through the centuries. Although partly in ruins, it is still the Parish Church enjoying regular services and concerts with many couples choosing the beautiful riverside location for their wedding day. The Cathedral museum hosts an interesting collection of artefacts and photographic memorabilia.

The entire town of Dunkeld was burnt to the ground in 1689 during The Battle of Dunkeld between the Jacobite forces from Bonnie Dundee and the local garrison of the Cameronians. From the remaining ashes, the picturesque Little Houses were built in the early 1700's. Beautifully restored in the 1950s to provide homes for local people, and now in the hands of The National Trust for Scotland , they include the famous Ell Shop named after the original measure for cloth.

Close neighbour, Birnam, is smaller than Dunkeld and although Shakespeare mentioned Birnam Wood in Macbeth, the town originates from the Victorian era with the coming of the railway in 1856. Originally the end of the line, many well to do Victorians took their holidays in the area, including Beatrix Potter, whose family visited regularly from their Lake District home. Beatrix Potter is said to have been inspired to write her tales of Peter Rabbit during her many countryside walks during her visits to the Dunkeld and Birnam area.

The statuesque and ancient Birnam Oak is just a few hundred metres from the centre of Birnam and is reputedly the last remaining oak of Birnam Wood. Historians have claimed that the wood was used as camouflage for Malcolm Canmore's army before the battle at Dunsinane with MacBeth. We cannot be sure this rather elderly oak was part of Birnam Wood at the time of the battle some 900 years ago, but whether truth or fiction the romance of the legend remains.

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