Places of Interest, Dull

By James Irvine Robertson

T

he name means 'a meadow or a dale' and, although today there is little to repay the visitor for a diversion, this is one of the most historically interesting places in the locality. Its story begins with a Glen Lyon priest thirteen centuries ago when the Dark Ages were extremely murky. Wolves and boars flourished and the border between the two races of men, the Picts and the Gaels, was at Keltneyburn where clashes were frequent. It was a time of lice, fleas, dirt, disease, tall stories and barbarity; Columba had been dead a century and Christianity was still embattled with ancient druidical beliefs, primitive superstitions and animalistic practices.

The priest, Adamnan, must have been a remarkable man. Not only did he go on to become the senior Scots churchman as Abbot of Iona but he also wrote the first Scots biography - that of his predecessor St Columba - and an account of the holy places of Palestine De locis Sanctis, which was used as guide book for pilgrims throughout the middle ages. He was one of the greatest men of his age, a supporter of the rights of women, and is supposed to have became the first pensioner in the locality when he decided to spend his retirement back in Glen Lyon. He also managed to stop the plague in the glen and the hole in a rock where he placed his crozier can still be seen. On his death his followers carried his remains to Dunkeld to lie alongside Columba. En route at Dull, the wicker handle came adrift from his bier. This was taken as a sign, so a monastery was built on the spot.

But there is a problem with Celtic saints like Adamnan - in Gaelic, Eonan. These men were on the cusp of history and, on the best evidence available, it is unlikely that Adamnan or Cuthbert ever ventured to this area. Adamnan himself died at Iona. He is the patron saint of Glen Lyon and of Dull and his name is attached to places throughout Highland Perthshire - and to others from Kintyre to Aberdeenshire. Perhaps the Culdee missionaries from Iona dedicated their cells to their abbot and stopped the plague in his name. The stories that attached the names of individuals to such places are survivors of generations of wagging tongues round peat fires on cold winter nights.

The Appin of Dull was the land owned by the monastery. The other Appin - apthane = abbey lands - in the Western Highlands belonged to the religious community of Lismore. At Dull, the Gaels called it Menzies's Appin to whom the abbot sold out in 1561 just before the Reformation. From the sale was retained the glebe land and the church of the parish which stretched from Amulree to Loch Tummel and Grandtully to Fortingall. Round the corner is a broken stone cross that used to mark a boundary of the ancient sanctuary where malefactors were safe from the law or vengeful kin. Two others crosses were purloined as gate posts by David Campbell, the factor of the Garth and Menzies estates. The predicted fate befell him - eventually - when he and his horse toppled over the parapet of the old Wade bridge across the Keltneyburn, now behind his cousin General David Stewart's statue. These two sanctuary stones are now in the Old Kirk at Weem.