Dingwall’s thing site is thought to have been located on the site which is now the Cromartie Memorial car park.
However very little is known about an assembly here and only the place name gives any indication of it ever having existed. Scholars assumed the town had been built over it and that only a future accident of archaeology would allow its discovery. The sagas do not mention a thing at Dingwall or anywhere else in the north of mainland Scotland. This mystery is heightened by the fact that there is little historical or archaeological evidence for Norse or Viking settlement in the area, despite there being a large number of Norse place names within the county.
Local tradition suggests that the thing was held on the eastern slope of Gallows Hill, roughly 600 m west of the medieval town. However, recent historical research has revealed the actual location is the mound on which the Cromartie Memorial now stands. The site exhibits many features typically associated with thing sites. The field adjacent to the mound (now the site of a petrol station) would have been the gathering place for those attending the thing. The site has links with the nearby Kirk, and Gallows Hill would have been a place of execution from the Norse period onwards.
Around 1710, Sir George Mackenzie the first Earl of Cromartie erected a large obelisk on the top of the thing mound. After his death in 1714 he was buried beside it, an act which has ensured the survival of the mound today. By 1917 the monument had begun to lean so dangerously it had to be removed, and in 1923 was replaced by the smaller structure we see today. In 1947 much of the mound was levelled to make way for a car park. Only the central part containing the burial place of the Earl now remains.
Rediscovering Dingwall's Thing Site
For many years Dingwall's thing has proved to be a puzzle for historians and archaeologists. Recently, members of Dingwall History Society were able to unlock the secrets of its location. The answer lay in three documents, which when put together finally revealed the location of Dingwall's lost thing site. The first, a document from 1503, details how James Duke of Ross gave up all his lands in Ross with the exception of the moothill of Dingwall. Possession of the moothill was enough to allow him to retain the title of Duke of Ross, demonstrating the continued importance of the site at the time. According to this document the moothill lay directly beside the town, rather than at a distance, as is often expected. The second clue is found in the Earl of Cromartie’s title deed, dated 1672, to a piece of land in Dingwall known as the Hillyard. Moot hills were often referred to simply as hill and the document confirms this connection, describing the property as “’‘ye mute hill of Dinguall.” The final clue can be found in 18th century land records, which record that the Hillyard, or Yardhill is “now the burial place of the family of Cromartie” better known today as the Cromartie Car Park.
These discoveries have allowed archaeological work to be undertaken at the Dingwall thing site for the first time ever. In 2011 a ground penetrating radar survey was carried out in the car park. The results begin to shed light on the site’s fascinating past. It shows the original extent of the mound, and whatappears to be a large ditch running around the site from the old shoreline as well as a possible entrance in the southwest. As at Tynwald Hill in the Isle of Man, it is possible that the Dingwall thing site had close links with the nearby church. A feature which may be a bridge or causeway over the ditch can be seen on the North West side facing the church, and there is also a suggestion of a buried road surface passing under Church Street between the two.
Other notable features include a possible prehistoric monument beneath the mound, and even evidence of the Victorian excavations undertaken to locate the burial place of George, Earl of Cromartie. These results are just the first tantalising glimpses into the story of Dingwall’s thing site. Further survey and excavation will reveal more about its history, and there are plans to open a heritage hub on the site to tell the story fully.
Dingwall is a market town with a long and rich history dating back to beyond the times when it was a Norse settlement. Sitting at the head of the Cromarty Firth, Dingwall was made a Royal Burgh in 1226 and the town and surrounding area is steeped in history. It is the county town of Ross-shire and has been a centre for trade, administration and justice since Norse times and to this day continues to be at the centre of county activity. Served by excellent transport links and easy to reach by road, rail, bus or bike, there has never been a better time to come and visit.
Enjoy the excellent range of cultural and leisure facilities on offer. From the knowledgeable local staff at the town museum (located within the old Town House) through to a wide choice of speciality cafes and shops – and easy access to outstanding countryside for hill walking and mountain bike trails, Dingwall provides a great base from which to explore many interesting and varied local attractions.
Drovers Exhibition (Dingwall & Highland Marts)
The Highland Livestock Heritage Society's Drovers Exhibition charts the important history of the Highland drover story. Opened by The Princess Royal in July 2008 the detailed exhibition incorporates an archive on the drovers both in electronic form and hard copy - as well as mounted wall displays tracing the era when drovers made journeys with cattle and sheep over vast distances across Highland to market.
Five miles from Dingwall, this unique Victorian Spa village boasts unspoiled architecture as well as the Highland Museum of Childhood situated on the platform of the old railway station. Interesting local walks include the Pictish Eagle Stone and the stone circle maze.
Dingwall is easily accessible by road, rail or air. It has its own railway station with regular connections to Inverness. From here it is possible to catch services to the rest of Scotland and London. Inverness airport flies to a number of locations and there is a regular bus service from the airport to the city centre. There are also regular buses from Inverness bus station to Dingwall.