Hills of Dunipace have intrigued for centuries

The hills of Dunipace
The hills of Dunipace

Dunipace has intrigued historians for centuries.

The original settlement lay near the little mounds known as the ‘Hills of Dunipace’ which people used to think were symbols of a peace treaty between the Romans and the locals.

The valley of the Carron was certainly the scene of many battles and when peace came, or so it was said, the parties agreed on a joint name.

Thus we have ‘dun’ from the native language meaning hill coupled with ‘pace’ from Latin meaning, of course, peace.

Very clever, but like so many such creative explanations complete baloney despite the sign pointing the way to the ‘Hills of Peace’.

Some have argued the ‘hills’ were ancient burial sites but this is also unlikely since no archaeological evidence has been found.

John Reid, who knows all there is to know about our place names, thinks the name might comes from dun y bais meaning the ‘hill of the ford’ – there certainly was an important fording point across the Carron quite close by. We do know that the mounds are a natural feature dating back to the ice age though the more prominent of the two surviving ones may have been shaped to make it suitable for a motte or wooden castle in the late middle ages.

Close by, in the medieval period, stood a little chapel which tradition says had as its priest the uncle of William Wallace who was a regular visitor.

According to the unreliable poet Blind Harry, he taught Wallace a verse in Latin which ended with something like ‘never accept slavery my son’.

So there we are: Scotland’s greatest hero learned his most important lesson in Falkirk district!

In June 1329 the body of King Robert the Bruce rested here overnight on its way to Dunfermline for burial. 

We know this because the locals wrote to the Exchequer asking to be reimbursed for money spent on candles and to pay the folk who guarded the coffin!

Not ‘we were so proud to honour the great King’ but ‘when are we getting oor money?’

There was a later church near the graveyard dating from the 1500s and people writing in the mid-Victorian period remembered catching bats in their hankies during the long sermons!

By then the original settlement of Dunipace had declined and the present village, known at first as Milltown of Dunipace, had grown up opposite Denny at the north end of the old bridge which was rebuilt in 1828. A new church opened in the 1830s - a bit nearer the people at Denovan - and this continued in use until the 1988. It is now a private house.

In the 18th century a house known as the Place of Dunipace stood near the ‘hills’, but it is long gone and only a fragment of a single small turret survives which was once used as a doocot.

The house was at that time occupied by the Primrose family.

Sir Archibald Primrose was accused of aiding the rebels in 1746 by showing them to the ford already mentioned so that they could cross the Carron on the morning of the battle of Falkirk Muir.

He claimed he had been forced to do it but nobody believed him and off went his head.

Impressionable folk still see him wandering around the old walled graveyard with his head tucked underneath his arm like dear old Anne Boleyn.

The graveyard is a real gem and well worth a visit but if you go at night keep a sharp look out for Archie!