Near the church in the village of Dunino on the B9131
This is without doubt the best ‘Sacred Well’ type site I have ever visited and was one of the highlights of my fortnight in Scotland. It is a superb place to visit.
We parked next to the church and I walked alone down the path running alongside the church towards the trees. It is a lovely little walk through the trees and you then come out to the promontory where the well is. The hole in the rock is circular (the water didn’t look that clean) and next to it is the foot carving – very similar to the one at Dunadd Fort. Yes, I did try my foot for size and yes it did fit!
From here I walked down the steep, slipper stone steps, cut through the cliff face which leads to the gorge floor and stream. This really is a very quaint set of steps although you do have to take care. As you reach the bottom you walk past the Celtic Knot carved into the rock (on your left). Whoever carved this did a very good job.
When I reached the gorge floor the first thing I noticed was the upside down tree trunk bug into the ground - a mini Seahenge no less! This is clearly still an important place to a lot of people. There were lots of ‘offerings’ all around. Teddies, toys, coins, ribbons, candles and even an old black and white photo of a couple sandwiched between two sheets of tin for protection. Someone’s deceased parents perhaps? Clooties festooned the lower branches of several trees. There was also a small hearth near the upside down tree trunk.
This place simply oozed with atmosphere. The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly down through the trees into the gorge, dappled by the leaves. Everywhere was shady and damp. Deep dark moss hung from rock and tree alike.
I really can’t put into words the sense of tranquillity felt here with only the sound of bird song and the trickle of water for company. Coming here gives an understanding of how the ‘sacred groves’ of old would be so important to the ancients. One thing is for sure, if there were such things as fairies, this is where you would find them.
I can’t recommend this place highly enough, especially on a day like today.
I left with a sense of contentment and a smile on my face.
This is why we travel all over the country to seek out these special places.
After hearing that this site was featured on the 'Fortean' TV show hosted by the biker priest, I headed out to pay this place a visit (around November 1999). Firstly, I should mention that an unfortunate feature of this den is that the burn that runs through it acts a sewage stream for the houses surrounding it!
Secondly from the accounts I have heard from other people Dunino Den was supposedly a highly revered site of pagan worship. For example, on the Fortean TV show it was reported that one of the camera men lit up a cigarette only to hear a voice inside his head snapping at him to 'GET OUT'
However my personal experience of this place was that it was very much the sort of place where one might discover the 'teddy bears having their picnic'. I found the ambience of the place very gentle and unprovoking. Indeed, if the den were a person then there would not be a better baby-sitter in town. A very nice place indeed, but in my opinion it was NOT a site of PRIMARY pagan worship. The energy of this den would provide the worshiper with too much of a sheltered outlook on life for the duration of the worshippers stay (Worship = outlook = approach to life i.e. A close pact with the energies in this den is not going to get the worshipper through times of great challenge and hardship).
Of course, the above is just an account of my own personal experience of the place.....and I have only ever been once....perhaps there are sharper more powerful elements to the energies here that I never stumbled upon orn was aware of?
My first visit to Dunino Den... 7th Jan. 04. Impressive. The basin and footprint... yes that is like Dunadd. Perhaps it really was an inaugral device for local tribal kings or such.
The carved Celtic knotwork?
I had a strong and immediate feeling that they (circle and the triad) were fairly recent fakery. Nicely greened over with a few years ageing but just a bit too crisp and convenient I felt. I suspect late 20th century tampering here, wishful thinking and vandalism. a little to the right of the circular knot device I could vaguely see a rough and very old bit of incising... shaped a little like a crude representation of a pine tree. It reminded me of Ogham script... and is more stylistically in line with the incising on the churchyard stone with the coins on top.
The large cross?
I failed to spot it as I was unprepared as to what to expect at Dunino... (vague word of mouth descriptions only)
Since my visit I have read of the large rock with the basin being called the 'pulpit'. I think that's incorrect. Unaware at time of visit that any rock here was called such... I did notice that the largest rock (the one with the tiny cave underneath) was remarkably like a pulpit and that is exactly how I'd describe this stone (not the basin one). It even has dual ascending passages... almost symetrical, narrowly leading up behind it to it's flat top.
How very like the stairways on an actual church pulpit.
On the flat top surface I noticed (next to a pretty basket of withered flowers there placed) a little circular post hole. I don't know it's depth but i cleared out old leaves down to about ten inches before stopping.
I call it a post hole as this seems it's obvious purpose, though it would require secondary opinion here.
I ask myself what would sit in such a post hole? The first thing that comes to mind is a cross.
I can imagine the church would've (at some point) used this almost certainly previously pagan site for worship. Another more fanciful idea as to what occupied this 'post hole' would be some kind of lectern so that a priest could use this rock as the natural pulpit it appears to be.
Whatever it's purpose... it is plainly there and begs question.
I agree this is a beautiful, serene and mysterious place to visit. On doing a websearch, I discovered this page and found out that Dunino Den's not such a big secret after all.
Last Wednesday afternoon (05/11/03) I was in the area and decided to visit the Dunino Den. As peaceful and mystique as the Den is my afternoon was shattered when I came across a gent in his mid to late forties hacking the head of a rabbit. Which to me seemed already dead, I hope! This site is for all to visit and enjoy and although this was ment to be a place of ancient sacrifice. I do believe in modern society there is a time and place and mindless acts as described are totally unacceptable, not to mention it is also a serious breach in law and order.
Have respect and enjoy the wonders of this site. I live locally and have spent a great deal of time searching the den and using this natural point of beauty as a medium to get closer to nature and to free the mind of modern day life.
I recommend for those of you who read this and are of the same mind as myself, go and pay a visit and clear the mind.
The Kirk itself is well worth a look in, whether you're religious or not. As you stand above the basin and footprint (sorry the photo's pretty poor) there are some steps leading down into the Den, and on the left as you go is a well-defined carving of Celtic knotwork. Round the small promontory bearing the large cross is a small Celtic Trinity, about 9" diameter. Very dark under the trees the day I was there, so the photo's been enhanced a bit and isn't very clear. Well worth a visit though.
Enter from a little path at the side of Dunino church and you will come through a leafy glade to a rock promontory, from here you can look down onto an area of ground with a little stream which runs through this natural amphitheatre. On the promontory there is a footprint carved out of the rock as at Dunadd and next to it a carved out basin which is approximately one metre across and half a metre deep. To the left of the promontory are very steep steps cut into the rock which lead down to the water. At the bottom of the steps carved into the natural rock on the left is a carved circle of Celtic knots approximately 25 cms in diameter. Follow this wall about 20 metres further round and you will find a large ringed cross approximately 3 metres tall and 1 and a half metres wide incised into the rock face.
This place has an atmosphere all of it's own, it is very peaceful and still down in the hollow and is still obviously used by people with an interest in pagan practices, I saw bunches of feathers, dreamcatchers, ribbons, little parcels and various other items tied to the branches of trees. All in all a most intriguing place and well worth a visit
Some years ago, when many of the roads in the east of Fife were still used but by few, a visitor to the district.. resolved to make a detour to visit [Dunino Church]. A somewhat rough track leads down to a bridge.. and a broad and well-made path , cut in the hillside [climbs] among the trees to the kirk and the manse. Leaving this for the moment he continued on the level track round the flank of the hill, and saw before him on thefarther side of the stream a picturesque hamlet. Some of the cottages were thatched, some tiled; but all were covered in roses and creepers.. At the east end.. a smithy closed the prospect, save for the trees that shut out the further windings of the Den.
No sound broke the stillness of the summer noon but the flow of the burn. At one or two of the doors there stood an old man in knee-breeches and broad bonnet, or a woman in a white mutch and a stuff gown, while in the entrance to the forge the smith leant motionless on his hammer... Half in a dream he turned and climbed to the church.. No sense of the abnormal had occurred to the intruder..
A year elapsed ere the wanderer came thither again.. This time he was accompanied by a companion to whom he had told the story of his glimpse of 'the most old-world hamlet in Fife'... they prepared to sketch the Arcady to be revealed. The cottages were gone. The burn flowed through the Den as when last he saw it, but its farther bank was bare...
.. The author is informed on excellent authority that there were at one time at least three or four cottages and a blacksmith's shop at the place described. It is said these were taken down "some time last century."
Edited from Wilkie's 1931 'Bygone Fife', quoted in K Briggs' 'British Folktales and Legends' (1977).
It is thought that nearby Dunino Law is an artificial mound or an enlarged hill. The name Dunino is thought to be a deviation of the word Dunnigheanach which means "hill or fort of the daughters or young women".
There is a ley line that runs from Kellie Law past the edge of a crossroads, the edge of where the stone circle stood, across Bel-Craig through an ancient farm, ending at Dunino Law.
The stone circle used to exist across the burn from the Bel-Craig. Portions of it are thought to have been incorporated into nearby farm walls. Additionally, investigations in the Den have found ten large boulders, some of which bear plough marks, possibly being discarded from the adjacent field.
Decidedly anti-pagan folklore claims that druids made human sacrifices at these pools, the pools filling up with blood. Sounds like a bid by the church to stop people sneaking off down the steps after the service?! Was the church built to surplant the natural site? or did the church at some point embrace it? It's been suggested that the church was built where a stone circle once stood, incorporating the stones into its walls, or that they were taken from a circle the other side of the Den.
The carving on the cross marked stone supporting the church's sundial is said to be from 800AD.
The large Celtic cross in the den is thought to be relatively recent. There is also the shape of a hollowed out footprint in the rock.
A fascinating theory that Dunino is the reason St Andrews is where it is read "Origin of St Andrews - Moon, Magicians & Maidens in Fife" by Richard A. Batchelor (Sheiling Publications - ISBN 0 9516986 1 3)