Mysterious places fascinate me. Places that aren’t well known and are off the beaten track. If they happen to be linked with ancient customs, fairies, Celtic rituals or anything along those lines then even better. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good tourist attraction too but I like nothing better than grabbing the dog and taking off on the hunt to find a hidden gem. Dunino Den, in the East Neuk of Fife, is exactly that. It ticks all the boxes. Stunning location, fascinating things to see which can’t always be explained, hidden, not well known and surrounded by rumours of druids and fairies.
Where is Dunino Den?
Postcode > KY16 8LU
Just past the little village of Dunino there is a tiny sign, leading the way along a winding road to Dunino Church. There is no sign for the Dunino Den itself. This pretty church is thought to have been built on the spot of an ancient stone circle which had been destroyed. The path through the centre of the cemetery leads to a magical place hidden in the forest. It was one of those days where the rain had been pouring down but had now stopped. There as a chill in the air but the sun was shining bright through the trees and casting beautiful shadows on the damp tree bark. The water drops were still dripping off the now-brown leaves and the already fallen leaves underfoot were slippery and plentiful. It’s said there is a sinister vibe around these parts but I couldn’t feel it. It felt warm and intriguing. Once we tentively climbed down the muddy hill into the depth of the forest we found our first taste of what was once a site a Pagan worship. Colourful ribbons hung sparodically from spindly tree branches, not on the grand scale of Munlochy Well on the Black Isle but subtley, every so often, there was a clump of not only ribbons, but string, belts, and even a pair of pants (I’m pretty sure these were not left by a Druid!). On a naturally-made flat platform, known as Bel Crag, we discovered the well, a holy well, on the edge of a cliff which plummets down at least ten feet to the forest floor below.
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History of Dunino Den
The well it rumoured to have been used for human sacrifice by Druids but it's more likely to have not been used for anything so sinister, there is actually no written record of Druids partaking in human sacrifices at all. It’s also said you can bring your hopes and wishes here and they will always come true. I’ll let you know.... A steep set of steps have been dug out from the cliff and take you down onto the den floor (take care on these steps, they can be slippery). Here we found Celtic symbols, crosses, and marks I’ve never seen before, etched into the stone by worshippers. Pennies are jammed into crevice in the rocks, left as a monetary offering and I’m told there is also the face of a man although for the life of me I couldn’t find it. A prayer tree in the centre of the clearing has an assortment of dream catchers and beads, again hung by worshippers, both ancient and modern. There most likely will have been a circle marked out around this central tree, druids worshipped, and also chanted, prayed and danced within this circle, which has 'no beginning and no end', the four quarter-points symbolising the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water. The forest floor is backed on two sides by two huge moss-covered rock faces, like a semi circle, looking onto the stream. It feels secluded and magical. Pagans still visit the site today, there are between 25,000 and 250,000 practising pagans in the UK so it's not just legend and folklore.
This quiet clearing, deep in the forest, down by the river, is exactly the kind of place Druids are said to have been drawn to. They used secluded places, like clearings in forests, and stone circles (of which there was, before the church was built) to worship. The Druids also worshipped the sun and observed nature’s cycles such as the Samhain, the Beltane and Yule. The way the sun was casting its light on the forest that day we visited showed why they chose this mysterious location. There is definitely a peaceful atmosphere here that I found comforting. It’s so utterly quiet, save for the gentle bird song and the and whistling wind. It’s surprising that Dunino Den is still relatively unknown, considering the popularity of Stonehenge and Munlochy. This though made it even more special.
A gateway to another world?
Before you leave the church behind you’ll find an alter stone, thought to be from the 9th century and thought to have been placed by the Druids, in the north west of the graveyard. Worshippers have been leaving coins here for good luck for what appears to be centuries but underneath there is an ancient sun dial, or ‘Wheel of Taranis’, the Celtic sun god. It represents the solar calendar. I didn’t see the sun dial, it’s apparently bad luck to remove the coins and there isn’t a chance in the world that I’m risking a curse from the ancient Druids.
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