In the beginning...
The effects of the retreat of the ice age over 18000 years ago on the landscape of Inverness can be seen clearly from the upper slopes of Dunain Woods. Deglaciation happened in fits and starts over many thousands of years leaving deposits of sand and gravel in ridges and mounds. One such ‘esker’ as they are called, culminates in the 60m high Torvean hill and Tomnahurich hill.The esker ridge continues across the A82 towards the Dunain duck pond. Like the Torvean quarry, the Dunain Woods main carpark is in the esker that was quarried in the past for sand and gravel.
A ruined 'passage grave' dating from around 3000 BC is situated on the highest ground of the Leachkin ridge . The polygonal burial chamber was originally contained within a 70ft cairn, none of which remains. The entrance passage would have been from the NE leading to a bigger second passage and a much higher inner chamber. One large standing stone remains erect. We can only speculate as to the rituals that may have been enacted at this spot. The chambered cairn is of the Orkney/Cromarty type which is found on high ground only from west of Inverness to the far north. It is unlike the Clava cairn types which are found on low lying land to the east and south.
“Craig Dunain saw St.Columba bring Christianity to King Brude, stop the water monster of the Ness in its tracks with the sign of the Cross, and heal the Druid with a white pebble in consecrated water.”
The Well of the Spotted Rock
South of the reservoir a steep wooded slope rises to the Spotted Rock or Creagan Breag It forms the highest outcrop of rock within Dunain Woodland. In the past, when Dunain hillside was mainly heather and moorland this rock would have been a very prominent feature of the landscape (we hope, with the help of volunteers, to make it a viewpoint once again in the future). Directly below the rock and near to the reservoir is the well 'Fuaran a Creagan Breag' the Well of the Spotted Rock. In former times this was healing well. It was known as a fairy well and if a " poor mother had a weak and puny child which she supposed to have been left by fairies in place of her own, by exposing it here overnight and leaving some small offering... the bantling would be carried away and in the morning she would find her own child restored to health. (Inverness Scientific Society 1878, Ancient Wells and their Folklore)
The Cradle Stone
This was last recorded in1880 by the Inverness Scientific Society on an excursion to Craig Phadrig and the Leachkin.
“The party then ascended the Leachkin to see the cradle-stone which lies on the summit. It is quite flat and the hollow cut in the centre resembles, in size and shape, a child’s coffin. The foot has been torn or weathered away but the greater portion is entire. An old man remembers the stone in its complete state and says its other name was clach na shia (stone of the fairies). At one end it used to be hooded like a child’s cradle but that was broken by the lighting of a hill top bonfire for the coming of age of a heir of the Redcastle estate”.
No one knows what the stone was used for. Was it part of an ancient celtic ceremony and where is it now for no record of it exists since that excursion in 1880.
The Barony of Kinmylies
The Barony was formed in 1232 as gift to the Bishop of Moray from Alexander 2. There was at Kilmylies, a church and burying ground and “a pleasant domain with a considerable population” on the land between Craig Phadraig and Craig Dunain.
In 1398 Kinmylies was divided by Alexander, Lord of the Isles, into Upper Kinmylies (the Leachkin) which he gave to Reginald MacAlexander and Easter Kinmylies now Muirtown which he gave to John de Chisholm. In 1402 the lands were returned to the church – on pain of excommunication of Alastair then Lord of the Isles
1544 the lands of Kinmylies were disposed of as the fortunes of the Episcopal church waned. They were passed to Hugh Fraser, Lord Lovat and since then to Mr Baillie of Dochfour who sold the Dunain Woods land to Inverness District for the new hospital.
Battle of Clachnaharry
For many hundreds of years Craig Dunain hillside (the leachkin) was used as an escape route by many groups of fighting and raiding highland clans. The battle of Clachnaharry in 1454 tells of one such event when some Munros were returning north with their booty. They failed to give the Macintoshes, whose land they had crossed, some of the takings and they were pursued across the river Ness. The Munros had time to send some clan members, with the booty, over the Dunain leachkin (hillside) to the moors beyond. The rest of the clan waited for the Macintoshes at Clachnaharry, where a bloody conflict took place in which both sides suffered severely but the Munros won. A memorial on Craig Phadrig marks the crag above the battleground.
Jacobites and Culloden
“Lord Montrose passed by Dunain in triumph in 1645 and in defeat in 1649.
It is a hillside which, a century later, looked across the valley to Culloden, and the last great battle on native soil, a battle which was to settle the destiny not only of Prince Charles and the Jacobite cause, but also a way of life”..
It is recorded that after the battle of Culloden many fleeing highlanders waded and swam the river Ness in their efforts to escape from the Redcoats. Their favoured route for escape was to cross the river at the Ness Islands then climb up the slopes of Craig Dunain and Leachkin Brae to reach the drove road which led to the south west, and eventually to Skye. Well into the mid 20th century the hillside crofts remained inhabited by the traditional Gaelic speaking community of Inverness.
The Hospital building
In 1864 work started on Inverness District Lunatic Asylum. It was a very modern idea for its day – a mental hospital without walls.
“The absence of walls meant that the problem of ‘escapees’ was probably more evident here than at other asylums, and Dr. Thomas Aitken, the first Superintendent, admitted in 1866 that one of the great sources of anxiety connected with the government of the Asylum consisted in attempts to escape.
Aitken observed that it is also a curious feature in connection with these attempts, that the greater number are made by patients coming from Skye, whilst, in general, they occur most frequently during the harvest. http://web.ges.gla.ac.uk/Projects/WebSite/scaling.pdf
The Asylum was built miles out from Inverness, with its own estate, gas works, laundry and water supply. The very complicated roof of the hospital building used more slates than any other building in Scotland at the time. Old maps show there was a cemetery for patients. Soon a duck pond was added and the patient numbers increased until by the 20th century over 2000 patients from all over the Highlands were being treated.
Some patients were not ill but were there because they did not comply with society’s rules. A wayward teenage girl might find herself ‘committed, by her parents, for life for having an ’immoral’ attitude, or a boy for being ‘wayward’ and difficult to discipline.
Many shell shocked soldiers from World War 1 ended up in the hospital and one of these was Angus McPhee who became known as the ‘strawman’ artist from the works of art, he created made out of grasses or leaves knitted together. These tiny articles, such as bags, boots, trousers and ropes can be seen on www.extraordinarytrust.co.uk
Each year a wreath is laid at Dunain Hospital cemetery for Colour Sargeant James Munro who was presented with the Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria in 1860 'for devoted gallantry at Secundra Bagh (India) in having promptly rushed to the rescue of Captain Walsh of the same corps (93rd Highlanders), when wounded and in danger of his life, whom he carried to a place of safety, into which place the sergeant was brought in shortly afterwards badly wounded.". James Munro appeared to suffer badly from his wounds and was hospitalised in 1870. His health deteriorated and he died in Craig Dunain Hospital in 1871, aged 45. There is no record of his burial but it is believed he was buried in the Asylum cemetery either because there were no relatives to collect the body or they were too poor to do so.