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May 2nd 1580

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The Dragon Hole of Perth

It has been claimed that William Wallace on occasion used the cliffs below Kinnoull Hill as a refuge when pursuit became too close for comfort. No doubt the so-called Dragon’s Hole, which was a substantial cave high up among the rocks, would have been one of the places to which he could retreat. It was quite large and could easily accommodate a dozen people or if local legends were to be believed, one large dragon.

The cave has now become largely hidden by the many stones which have blocked the entrance with the passage of time. But before the Reformation the area was a favourite one with the people of Perth. The scene is described by Sir Walter Scott:

“At the opening of a dark but narrow fissure in the rock stood a figure fantastically dressed and adorned with garlands of flowers. Several young men and women were clambering up the rocks towards the cavern, while a knot of spectators stood below, whose shouts rent the air, as occasionally some unlucky aspirant missed his or her hold, slipped down again into the crowds or, more unlucky still, regained not their footing until they had toppled down the steep bank beneath, which was formed of small stones too recently dislodged from the parent rock to admit even a handful of furze or fern to break the fall of the unskilful. Beyond this crowd a long line of people in their holiday attire among whom many religious habits were visible, extended along by the foot of the cliff, until lost to view within a ravine, out of which the procession seemed still slowly advancing. As Oliver drew near, he observed an elderly respectable-looking citizen standing aloof from the rest. To him he advanced, and after the usual salutations of the morning, enquired what the concourse meant. ‘You are surely a stranger in these parts,’ replied his informant, ‘not to have heard of the Festival of the Dragon on May morning.’ ‘I had heard of such a custom being observed at St Johnstoun, but knew not that a spot so wild and romantic had been chosen for its celebrations. I think it is said to have its origins in the rejoicings which were instituted after the slaughter of a dragon which long infested the neighbourhood.’” 

Such a pagan festival found little favour with the zealots of the new reformed church. May 2nd 1580. “Because the Assembly of Ministers and Elders understand that the resort to the Dragon Hole by young men as by women, with their piping and drums striking before them through this town, has caused no small slander to the congregation. The said Assembly have ordained that no person report or repair to the said Dragon Hole as they have done in times bygone, namely in the month of May, nor shall pass through the town with piping and striking of drums, as heretofore they have done, under the penalty of twenty shillings (Scots) to the poor, to every person that shall be found guilty; also that they shall make their public repentance upon an Sabbath day in presence of the people.” 

This was the kiss of death to such idolatrous practices, though there was always one who was more adventurous or perhaps more stupid or more ignorant. May 9th 1580. “Ordains the Act made against the Dragon Hole to strike upon David Rollock, because he is convicted of breaking the same…”  The Elders were determined that such backsliding should not continue for a second year, and in good time before the following May a warning was given to the people. April 10th 1581. “The whole Assembly of the Elders, with advice of the Magistrates, ratify the former Act concerning the Dragon Hole.” 

That was the end of the Festival of the Dragon.

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