TRADITION asserts that Macbeth, thane of Glammis, after having murdered King Duncan, and usurped the Scottish crown, erected a strong castle on the summit of this hill, to which – as affording him greater security than his more customary residence at Carn Beth, about four miles to the south-west – he retired on the approach of Siward, and “the good Macduff;” that from its battlements he descried the fearful omen of his approaching downfall, – “a moving grove” advancing from the forest of Birnam; and that, despairing of the issue of the approaching contest, he fled northwards, but was pursued, overtaken, and slain at Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire. Some accounts, however, represent him as having thrown himself in despair over a precipitous part of Dunsinnaine, and having been buried at a place in the neighbourhood called ‘The Lang Man’s Grove.’ A tumulus of earth, near Belmont castle, several miles east of Dunsinnaine, is also pointed out by some legends as the tomb of “the giant Macbeth.” The resemblance between these traditions, and Shakspeare’s wonderful drama, is remarkable, and favours the idea that our great poet had collected a considerable portion of his materials on the spot. “Birnam hill,” says Mr. Knight in his unrivalled edition of Shakspeare, “is distant about a mile from Dunkeld; and two old trees, which are believed to be the last remains of Birnam wood, grow by the river-side, half-a-mile from the foot of the hill. The hills of Birnam and Dunsinnaine must have been excellent posts of observation in time of war, both commanding the level country which lies between them, and various passes, lochs, roads, and rivers in other directions. Birnam hill, no longer clothed with forest, but belted with plantations of young larch, rises to the height of 1,040 feet, and exhibits, amidst the heath, ferns, and mosses, which clothe its sides, distinct traces of an ancient fort, which is called Duncan’s court. Tradition says that Duncan held his court there. The Dunsinnaine hills are visible, at the distance of twelve miles, from every part of its northern side. Birnam hill is precisely the point where a general, in full march towards Dunsinnaine, would be likely to pause, to survey the plain which he must cross; and from this spot would the ‘leavy screen’ devised by Malcolm become necessary to conceal the amount of the hostile force from the watch on the Dunsinnaine heights:-
‘Thereby shall we shadow
The numbers of our host, and make discovery
Err in report of us.’ “
The present view is taken from the south. The mansion-house in the centre is Bandirran, the seat of Miss Drummond. The lofty peak in the extreme distance, on the left side of the engraving, behind the tree in the foreground, is the summit of the classic Dunsinnaine, which rises nearly 800 feet above the spectator’s eye at its base, and 1,114 feet, or, according to some authorities, 1,024 feet above sea-level. It is of a conical form, and terminates in an oval platform, measuring about 169 yards in length, and 89 yards in breadth. It is one of the Sidlaw hills; but is, in some measure, detached from the range, and is distinguished from the neighbouring heights by the greener sward which clothes its summit. Precipitous on all sides, except the north-west, and being in a great measure isolated, it presented a favourable post in the rude warfare of ancient times; and as such, appears to have been occupied as a hill-fort by the ancient Britons. A strong rampart has been cast up quite round the upper part of the hill; but this rampart – unlike that of similar early British works – appears to be composed of mason work, consisting of rough whin and quarried freestone, cemented with a kind of reddish mortar.
The view from the summit of Dunsinnaine – which may be approached on the north-west side by a pathway leading from the village of Collace – is rich and pleasingly diversified, and embraces portions of no fewer than sixt4een counties. On the north-west and north are seen the towering forms of several of the principal Grampian summits, from Mount-Battock on the confines of the Mearns, to Benchonzie, which divides Glenturret from Glenalmond. Benygloe in Athole, and Schihallien, are peculiarly prominent. Stretching away to the north-east is the rich tract of Strathmore; on the south is the still richer carse of Gowrie, with “the green Lomonds” in the distance, and the Pentlands in the extreme horizon; on the west is the vale of the Tay.
William Nairne, Esq., sheriff of Perthshire, was raised to the bench, as a lord-of-session, under the title of Lord Dunsinnaine, in the latter part of last century. He died at an advanced age in March, 1812, and was succeeded in the entailed estate of Dunsinnaine by James Mellis Nairne, Esq., the present proprietor.