Dunlichity Church and Cemetery-A Hidden Gem In the Scottish Highlands

Nestled within the gorgeous Scottish Highlands, on a very minor road about ten miles from Inverness, sits a lovely hidden gem – Dunlichity Church and Cemetery.

Dunlichity Parish Church and Cemetery.

Mr. C and I discovered Dunlichity Church by accident in 2019. Dunlichity is an example of “what I call” the real Scotland (any “Miranda” fans out there? 🙂 ) You might be wondering what I mean by that because obviously, it’s all real, of course! What I mean is that Dunlichity isn’t one of the uber-popular and (sshh, dare I say it?) overpromoted sites that draw in people from near and far. It will probably never appear on a list of the “Top 10 Things to Do In Scotland” (well, that is unless someone like Dana Gabaldon makes it famous). I could be completely wrong – but I’d be willing to bet that nearby residents and history enthusiasts are maybe some of the only individuals aware of its existence. A small hidden gem, Dunlcihity Church and its cemetery are a wonderful, authentic, off-the-radar testimony to Scottish lives past and present that only a lucky few curious visitors and residents will ever stumble across. 

Dunlichity Church dates to 1759 (repairs were carried out in 1826, at which time portions of both the church’s interior and exterior were remodeled). This 18th-century building was the replacement of an earlier church that was constructed in 1569. In fact, some of the walls of the original building were incorporated into the structure that we see today.

Dunlichity Church and Cemetery.

In addition to the church building, a watchtower is positioned by the entrance gate. The small two-story structure was constructed in a simple gabled design. This house would have served as a lookout for anyone brazen enough to try to steal a corpse from the graveyard. Until the Anatomy Act of 1832, when it became legal to donate a deceased person’s body to science, graverobbing was a real problem. Certain opportunists discovered they could make a buck or two by turning over a newly dead body to an anatomy school. If you have been around here for a while, you might remember an article I published about two rather infamous body snatchers – Burke and Hare!

In his, The Devil’s Dictionary, the acerbic lexicographer Ambrose Bierce defined a body snatcher as “one who supplies the young physicians with that which the old physicians have supplied the undertaker.” While Bierce may have been harsh on the physicians of his day, he was correct in linking body snatching to medicine—the demand for fresh bodies in 18th- and 19th-century Britain and the United States was created by anatomy professors, surgeons, and medical students. Because the only bodies legally available for medical dissection were the remains of executed criminals, demand far outpaced supply.” -Brittanica

Though the first church we know of was built in 1569, the site upon which Dunlichity sits had been a gathering place for worshipers long before. There is evidence that the area was the site of any early Christian settlement dedicated to St. Finan, c.575 (Historic Environment Scotland). Some even believe that St. Finan himself preached there.

Exploring the tombstones at Dunlichity Cemetery is a fascinating way to spend a half-hour. Along with the incredibly old, weathered stones, there are two walled enclosures that contain the remains of the MacGillivrays and the Shaws of Tordarroch.

A very old stone wall plaque that says The Burial Ground of the Macgillivray Chiefs.
Burial place of the Chiefs of MacGillivray

Let’s take a quick peek around the graveyard.

A stone doorway and a rusty iron gate at Dunlichity Church and Cemetery.
An old weather stone plaque.
A stone walled burial enclosure.

In June 2018, the Rev. Reg Campbell spoke to the community at a celebration to honor the 400-year union between Dunlichity Church and nearby Daviot Church. The Reverend’s talk followed on the heels of a rather sad day for church membership, as just two months prior, Dunlichity was instructed to close, ending its tenure as a Church of Scotland building. The following words were written in a Daviot/Dunlichity newsletter:

“As you all know, April was rather a difficult month for the members of Daviot & Dunlichity Church, as towards the end of the month, we had the final service at Dunlichity church as a Church of Scotland building. It was a very poignant service, but we ended in a spirit of hope for the future, and we sincerely believe that something good will come from this closure – when one door closes, a window opens!”

Hear! Hear! Cheers to Dunlichity’s past and to whatever the future holds.

An ornate cross on the top of an old church with mountains in the background.

Have a fantastic week, friends,

9 thoughts on “Dunlichity Church and Cemetery-A Hidden Gem In the Scottish Highlands

  • What a wonderful find. You could probably spend a lifetime visiting off the beaten track places like this, only really known to the local community. 👍❤️

    • Absolutely. I hope Covid gets under control and that we are able to go back to Scotland at least within the next couple of years. There is still so much we want to see and do. I miss it terribly.

    • Thanks, Tobi! Yes, it was very atmospheric and I think even more so because it was so overcast that day.

      What SMWS whiskies have you had lately? We bought a few bottles from the November offering. One is called The Quay to Success, an INCREDIBLE peated whisky from the Caol Isla distillery. We are having a blast with the society whiskies.

      • That Caol Ila sounds great. The distillery always delivers the goods. I recently reviewed two single cask Caol Ilas on my blog – they weren’t from The SMWS though.

        Still, it’s funny that you ask about The SMWS today. I just renewed my membership and my mystery bottle arrived this afternoon. It’s a young Glen Spey called “Dazzling and scintillating”. I didn’t open it right away though. Today, I had a dram of a sherried Bowmore 16yo called “Galleon attacked by pirates”. The whisky is as good as the name!

  • I love beautiful old cemeteries, and your photos of this one are gorgeous. Too bad the church had to close. The quote “when one door closes, a window opens” seems appropriate… given its proximity to the cemetery.

Leave a Reply