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  • Emily Jarvie

Murphy Explores: Dunino Den and Parish Church

Updated: Jun 25

Just a short 10-minute drive from the centre of St Andrews, this historic site of Pagan worship is easy to find yet feels like another world! Dunino Den and Parish Church are well worth a visit if venturing out of town. A round trip could take as little as an hour, but I would encourage you to take your time and attune to the supernatural atmosphere that one can experience here.


The den has become popular in recent years (largely owing to increased social media coverage!) as something of a “dark tourist” destination due to the belief that the site itself is a conduit between our tangible world and something beyond. As such, it is best to visit outwith peak tourist seasons to avoid crowds – the presence of other people would certainly impact your appreciation of this unique location. Our first visit to the site was in Spring 2023 and we found this to be an ideal time to visit both for acceptable weather (though I make no promises!) and low crowds, only bumping into a small family of tourists and the occasional dog walker.

 

Dunino Parish Church

Though those of us lured to the site for more magickal reasons (more on this below) may not pay much notice to this marvellous building as they hurry towards the den, Dunino Parish Church should not be overlooked. The church has existed in various forms since as far back as 1240, though the building that stands on the site today was erected in 1827 by James Gillespie Graham, with the addition of the current chancel and porch by Waddell & Young in 1928. In the churchyard you can find stones carved with early Celtic symbols; a whisper of what is to be found within the den itself.



The church is open daily with services held every Sunday at 10am in the months of January, March, May, July, September and November. (Source: Scotland’s Churches Trust)

 

Dunino Den

Just beyond the tree line behind Dunino Parish Church lies Dunino Den. This pre-Christian site of worship has many supernatural beliefs attached to it, such as the “gateway between worlds” theory touched upon previously and the commonly shared suspicion that the site is haunted by woodland fae (fairies) and other creatures from Celtic folklore, the identities of which vary depending on who you ask. No matter the extent of your cynicism, it is surely hard to refute the feeling that someone (or indeed something) could be observing your visit from deep within the woods.

 

Before descending the steps, you’ll come across a well that is believed by some to have been used by ancient druids for the purpose of human sacrifice, though it is certainly worth noting that this claim is unfounded! Make your way down to the den “proper” to appreciate the intricate images and symbols carved into the stone by ancient pagans and the many tokens and trinkets left behind by modern pilgrims. The ever-changing collection of offerings will vary from week to week and the value of revisiting this site can’t be denied, even if only to experience how the changing seasons impact the atmosphere of the area. During our springtime visit, a gentle breeze had the ribbons (that had previously been tied to tree branches as offerings) dancing in the air, emulating the fairies believed to reside here.


 

Murphy’s Top Tips! If you’re driving from St Andrews, your sat nav might direct you left into a private road when you first enter Dunino – ignore this! Drive on a little further (past the school on the right) and turn left at the sign for Dunino Church, as this is where you’ll find parking. The den is walking distance from there.

 

Be aware that the steps down to the den “proper” are rather steep and would be dangerous when wet – descend with caution! It isn’t accessible to wheelchair users or indeed anybody who might have difficulty walking, or a fear of heights.

 

Above all else, be respectful. If you intend to leave a ribbon as an offering, tie it loosely and be sure it is made from biodegradable cotton. On a central tree you will find a sign that reads:

 

Leave only footprints… Take only memories!

Please don’t leave anything here that you have brought with you.

For the health of the trees on this wonderful site,

If you feel you must leave a token,

Please use a strip of biodegradable cotton tied very loosely.



If you have visited Dunino Den (or our article has inspired you to visit), we’d love to hear your thoughts and see your pictures! Submit your experience for a chance to feature in a future issue – dog pictures are of course encouraged!

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