Dunkeld Market Place © Jonathan Billinger
The small but historically important town of Dunkeld stands on the mighty Tay, just upstream from Perth. In 850 AD the first king of the Scots, Coinneach mac Ailpein (Anglicised as Kenneth MacAlpin) built a stone church here. Later, after Kind David I, Dunkeld became one of the main centres of Christianity in Scotland. An Abbey was founded here in AD 844, and the town became a bishopric in 1127. The construction of a Cathedral began around 1260. Although destroyed during the Reformation, the chancel has been restored and now serves as the town's Parish Church.
The whitewashed houses of little Dunkeld still stand proudly above the banks of the Tay, surrounded by steep wooded hills and crags. Despite its small size, Dunkeld holds great importance in Scottish history. It was once one of the main capitals of the kingdom of the Scots, along with Scone. Strategically located on the Highland-Lowland border it has seen many bloody border conflicts and was also plundered many times by the Danes. In 1689 the town was burned to the ground following the battle of Killiecrankie. Most of the town was rebuilt following the destruction and was fully restored in the 1950s by the National Trust for Scotland.
The town has a number of interesting shops and galleries, selling local crafts and products. The Ell Shop (named after a weaver's measure), stands on the corner of Cathedral Street. Originally built as a hospital in 1753 it is now a National Trust Visitor Centre and shop.
Wall plaques along Cathedral Street indicate several other historic buildings, including the boyhood home of Alexander Mackenzie, the Prime Minister of Canada in the 1870s. At the end of Cathedral Street, next to the gates of the Cathedral, is the Rectory, the oldest house in town. The Sundial House, on Brae Street, is named after the old sundial high on the south-west corner wall. From here a hill path leads up to the highest point of the town providing splendid views over the countryside.
Telford's Bridge over the River Tay at Dunkeld © Callum Black
Fords and ferries were used to cross the Tay here until a bridge was built in 1809 by Thomas Telford. This fine seven-arched stone bridge opened up an important trading route through to the highlands. Initially a toll bridge until 1860, when the locals had had enough of the tolls and threw the toll gates into the river.
The Tay is one of the best salmon rivers in Scotland and some of the country's largest recorded salmon have been caught near the town. The stretch of the Tay where Beatrix Potter first imagined the fishing exploits of Mr Jeremy Fisher the Frog, lies just to the south. She also wrote 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' during one of her summer holidays here.
Dunkeld's ruined Cathedral stands in an idyllic setting on the north bank of the Tay, overlooking Telford's magnificent stone bridge. During the 6th-c St Columba is said to have preached on the site. His symbol, the dove, appears in the stained glass of the great east window. The cathedral was built in the 1300s, over the same spot as the original Kirk where St Columba preached. The buildings were heavily vandalised during the 16th-c and again in 1679, during a battle between the Jacobites and the Cameronians. Now mostly a ruin, a small restored section is used as the parish church for the area.
Persons of note buried in the graveyard include Colonel Cleland, who was killed when his troops burned down Dunkeld. Also Count Rochenstart, the last direct descendant of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Alexander Stewart, the 14th-c tyrant known as the 'Wolf of Badenoch' who destroyed the Cathedral of Moray at Elgin is also buried here.
Opening times: daily from 10am
Location: 10 Cathedral St, Dunkeld PH8 0AW
Tel: 01350 727249
A large collection of photographs, records and memorabilia relating to the Cathedral, the Community of Dunkeld & Birnam, and the surrounding areas. There is also a permanent exhibition telling the history of the redevelopment of the reformed church.
Opening times: daily from 10am
Location: 12 The Cross, Dunkeld PH8 0AN
Tel: 01350 727786