We are fortunate in having numerous small villages and places of historic interest scattered throughout the Strath . Undoubtedly one of the villages which stands out amongst the best in terms of both ancient and modern heritage is Dunning . Located south of the River Earn at the foot of the Ochil Hills , it has a unique past well guarded and protected by the Dunning Parish Historical Society . The Society has been active over the decades having undertaken numerous schemes aimed at preserving a respect and knowledge of life as it was in this quiet part of Perthshire Founded in 1992 it currently has over 300 members and apart from a well designed and informative web site http://www.dunning.uk.net/ it holds regular meetings in the village addressed by a variety of speakers on selected topics of interest .
The Society has transcribed various census returns for the village and these are available to download are consult on their web site . Again in a genealogical vein , DPHS has produced a grave yard survey of the ancient St Serf’s Kirk where some of the stones date back to the early 1600s . The survey too can be consulted on the Society’s web site and has proven a wonderful assistance to researchers both home and abroad. In 2005 , the Society together with the Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust published a superb little book “ Historic Dunning – A Perthshire Village ” which can be purchased through their web site .
What then can one find in and around the village ? Below are some of the many interesting places , buildings and tales one can find in and about Dunning and the surrounding countryside .
The Battle of Mons Graupius
This epic battle between the native Picts ( the painted people ) and the Romans has recently been considered as having been fought near Dunning in the Clevage Hills. Roman Scotland stated on their web site
The Clevage Hills are a recognised constituent part of the Ochils “Northern Hills”, a rolling ridgeline (Dorsum) that stretch from Craig Rossie, past Dunning and, fronting the River Earn, along to at least as far as Carpow on the Tay.
The proposed Caledonian position is on the slopes of the Clevage Hills which stretch for some 3km from Middle Third to Craigenroe Hill (circa +290m OD).
The Roman auxiliaries will have deployed out of the side of their camp and marshalled their battleline on the approximate line of the modern Bridge of Earn Road (circa +50m OD) centred near Garvock.
An initial Roman deployment 1.5 km wide will indeed have been menaced by the length of the Caledonians position on the Clevage Hills and a redeployment to 2.7 km width will have to an extent countered this threat.
The local feature Bogtonlea suggests that boggy ground lay to the Romans flank and rear near Nethergarvock which explains the position chosen by the Romans for their camp on the slightly higher ground fronting the hillfort on Dun Croup / Crub – fort at the Croup or as it latterly came to be known in Gaelic speaking Scots times; Dun Knock.
The legionaries and Agricola’s cavalry reserve may have deployed out of the front of the camp, and were probably positioned here behind Dun Knock – crowned with its multi vallate hill fort - where they would be hidden from the Caledonians on the Clevage Hills but located sufficiently close to be able to intervene in a matter of only a few minutes if required.
Tacitus tells us they were held in reserve and Maxwell in 1990 cogently argued that the cavalry reserve (at least) had to be held in a position where they would be hidden from the Caledonians in order for their eventual counter attack to be launched to such cataclysmic effect, no doubt on account of the surprise of their sudden appearance on the battlefield at the critical moment.These are points which we shall return to.
This location also convincingly explains Tacitus own much misunderstood phrase, the legions were stationed “pro vallum” . This phrase is usually now – not entirely satisfactorily - translated as “in front of their marching camps defences”. A superior reading would fit at Dunning; i.e. before the (hillforts) ramparts.
Whether or not this was the site of the battle will undoubtedly remain controversial but it is clear that the Dunning site is now considered as being the correct locus by more than a few historical experts .
The Dupplin Cross
This 9th century sand stone cross stood originally in a field overlooking what was the Pictish royal palace at Forteviot not far from Dunning . Unfortunately the probable deterioration due to acid rain and other modern nasties deemed it necessary to remove and install it elsewhere where it would be properly protected . After some controversy and disputes it was agreed that it would undergo some restoration work through Historic Scotland and be placed in the Museum of Scotland for three years before returning here to Strathearn . The beautiful 13th century church of St Serfs in Dunning was chosen as its final destination where it can be admired in comparative comfort ! Standing some 2.6 metres tall , the main figure on the front face is believed to depict King Constantine ( c 789 – 820 AD ) on horseback supported by ranks of foot soldiers . A blank panel on the west face revealed lines of Latin script connecting with the King rather than Kenneth Mac Alpin as had originally been thought .
St Serf’s Church
A most attractive old building similar in many ways to the old parish kirk in Muthill not that far away. St Serf’s was endowed by the Charter of Inchaffray Abbey near Madderty and dates back to the early 13th Century if not before . No longer used as place of worship it is in the care of Historic Scotland and houses the Dupplin Cross described above and is open to the public. A stone slab found within the church would indicate that there may well have been an older building on the site pre dating the existing. The “Laird’s loft “was added in 1687. The original medieval church was reconstructed about 1808.
The oldest house in the village
In the aftermath of the 1714 Jacobite uprising , Dunning like many other of the villages of Strathearn suffered from the scorched earth policy of Marr’s Jacobite army. He had botched up the Battle of Sheriffmuir when victory was in his grasp displaying little military skill or ability . Sheriffmuir lies south of Dunning near the town of Dunblane . It was here that the Hanoverian (Government) general, John 2nd Duke of Argyle had encamped . Marr unlike Argyle was no soldier but a politician . Although casualty figures are still a source of uncertainty it is clear that the Government army suffered far greater casualties than the attacking Jacobites. Marr’s indecisiveness saw the Jacobites being ordered to retreat . The winter snows were deep and Marr adopted a scorched earth policy destroying all stocks of fodder in the villages as well as burning the houses . The frustrated army comprising mainly Highland soldiers and clansmen undoubtedly vented their frustration on the poor inhabitants who just happened to be in their way . Dunning was torched and the only house to avoid destruction can be seen today in Kirk Wynd in the village . Known as the “ straw house ” it got its name from the actions of the old woman who lived there at the time . She had set fire to a bundle of damp straw thus misleading the soldiers who wrongly assumed that the house was already alight .
Maggie Wall supposed witch
An earlier blog on witchcraft covers the tale of Maggie Wall of Dunning and I replicate it below :
Not far from Crook of Devon lies the village of Dunning . Dunning has a memorial to Maggie Wall a so called witch . Her story has been covered in many books and pamphlets over the years The historian and author Archie McKerracher in his book on Perthshire says that a wreath is left at the cairn each year, with a card saying 'In memory of Maggie Wall, Burnt by the Church in the Name of Christianity'. Nobody knows what her 'crime' was. Perhaps somebody's cow took sick and died and Maggie got the blame. Maybe she just knew too much for her own good about the special properties of herbs and flowers. There again, perhaps the 'Witch Pricker' was called in to look for the 'Devil's Mark' on her body, and found it. This was a patch of skin stained red, brown or blue where his three-inch blade gave no pain when he pushed it in. The truth is blacker. Probably it has more to do with politics than spells, for Maggie Wall lived and died in troubled times. She also had the bad luck to live in an area with a terrible reputation for persecuting witches. Six more were executed in Dunning in 1663, in a wood on the other side of the village. That number is terrifying for a village of perhaps a few hundred souls. Fear and hysteria were in the air and no woman was safe. A recent theory concerning Maggie Walls has been put forward by author Geoff Holder in his book Paranormal Perthshire (The History Press.2011) . Geoff states that in fact there was no such person as Maggie Walls . Indeed examination of the records do not reveal a person of that name suffering with the other unfortunates of the time . His theory is that that it was a mistranslation from an Estate Map of Lord Rollo of Duncrub produced in 1755 The map showed a field close by Duncrub House with a stone dyke referred to as Maggie’s Wall ! So Maggie may well have been around a s a witch but her surname was not Walls !