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Neil Gunn's Landscape
A Short Walk Up Dunbeath Strath That Neil Gunn Knew Well
26 October 2002

Proposed New Neil Gunn Readers Group 2003

Much of his inspiration for his books came from here and much of the landscape is to be found in his novels.  The walk was followed in the evening by a lecture on Neil Gunn's Novels by his nephew Diarmid Gunn.  Two books were also launched.  they are reprints of two of the novels - "Second Sight" and "Wild Geese Overhead".  The events were sponsored by Dunbeath Preservation Society and Whittles Publishing based in Latheronwheel.  They were promoted as part of Aberdeen University's winter season of lectures in the Highlands.

The walk started at Dunbeath Preservation Society's museum housed in the old school that Neil Gunn used to attend.  The museum holds a number of collections including all of the items collected by the Neil Gunn society that ceased just a few years ago.

It was a bright and hazy day rather unexpected considering the bad weather that has been around on other days and in many other parts of the country with high winds and rain.  In Dunbeath Strath on Saturday 26 October there was none of that  and the walk proceeded in the hazy sunshine with no rain or even a breathe of wind.


For Neil Gunn enthusiasts it was a chance to have many places pointed out that appear in the novels one way or another.  Nan and George Bethune led the way with Diarmid Gunn the authors nephew and other experts fielding questions on the novels and the area.

The Dunbeath Strath has been inhabited for thousands of years and is full of archaeological remains.  It bears the marks of glaciation has pictish brochs, stones and ancient walls.  The area is currently being studied to see if the settlement near the start of the walk was indeed a monastery hundreds of years ago. 
The group visited "Chapel Hill" with its remains on top of an area that has had much earlier settlement with the old walls perhaps being thousands of years old.  The truth of this may soon be discovered as Historic Scotland are now to investigate the area.

Neil Gunn walked the a area often from childhood and returned often in his adult life even when working in other places.  On this day the group concentrated on the lower part of the strath but it is possible to see much more and discover many other places that appear in some form in the novels.

From the school (now the Dunbeath Museum) that Neil Gunn attended walkers head down the road to a view point overlooking the village on one side and the harbour on the other. 
Then down the road and over the old bridge now overlooked by the giant flyover bridge carrying modern traffic.  Turning left on the other side of the bridge brings you immediately to the Meal mill.  The meal mill has not operated for many years.  the last miller was Adam Cunningham who served in the First World War with the Seaforth Highlanders.  He lost his right arm on the battlefield.  He managed to operate as a miller despite the difficulties and apparently had great strength in his remaining arm..  The mill had a lade taking water from the river.  the lade took water from a dam with a sluice.  It was washed away many years ago.  The remains of the lade are still visible along the path where the stonework is easily seen.  On the left is an island that was planted up in former times to be feature.  the trees are all of the same age.  Prior to this the island was used to grow oats at a time when every piece of ground was planted.

On the right of the path is an area that is said to have been a monastic settlement and on the ground there is a large knoll with steep sides referred to as Chapelhill in Gunn's writings.

Neil Gunn's ancestors came from the farm at Ballachly nearby.  He could trace his great grandmother and other relatives in the area.  The Dunbeath broch is clearly visible from the top of the knoll and the group went to both the knoll and the broch.

There is a great deal to see further up the strath if you have time to walk along the river up to Prisoners Leap.

See Also
Aberdeen University Programme Of Events

Buy Neil Gunn Books
Many of Neil Gunn's books are available from Dunbeath Preservation Society.  They also have a range of pamphlets about Neil Gunn by different authors.

Proposed New Neil Gunn Readers Group 2003

Over 40 pictures taken on a walk up the Dunbeath strath on 17 December 2000