Click for Bookshop

Wemyss Caves

A series of natural caves in ancient sandstone cliffs situated to the northeast of East Wemyss in Fife, some of which contain notable examples of Bronze-Age, Pictish and Early Christian art. The name Wemyss derives from the Gaelic Uamh meaning 'cave'. At least three of the original caves no longer survive, either having collapsed or blocked due to coastal erosion. Those containing carved artwork include the Court Cave, Dovecot Cave (Doo Cave), Jonathan's Cave (Factor's Cave) and the Sliding or Sloping Cave. Court Cave takes its name from the Baron's Court, once held in the cave. In 1934, fearing it had been undermined, the local coal company built brick pillars within the cave to support the roof and prevent its collapse. Jonathan's Cave was named after a man who once lived here with his family, while the Dovecot Cave contains nest boxes carved within the natural rock. The carvings were unfortunately lost when the western part of the Dovecot Cave collapsed during the First World War. Glass Cave was named for the glass manufactory established within by Sir George Hay in 1610, but collapsed due to nearby mining activity in 1901. The 15th C. Macduff's Castle lies above the double-chambered Well Cave, which was contained a well and was connected by a stairway to the castle above.

Geologically, the caves are cut into a soft red sandstone of Carboniferous age, which show gentle folding, distinct cross-bedding in some units and honeycomb weathering. The cliffs now lie behind a post-glacial raised beach which overlooks the Firth of Forth.

First described by Professor James Young Simpson who explored the caves in 1865, some of the carvings were illustrated in the second edition of John Stuart's Sculptured Stones of Scotland (1867). The caves were investigated by the Channel 4 television programme Time Team in 2004, who excavated within Jonathan's Cave, the Sloping Cave, the Well Cave and Fern Cave. Jonathan's Cave includes some of the best carvings, including an example of Ogham script. Evidence of occupation was found in the Sloping Cave.

Formed in 1986, the Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society operates a nearby education centre and runs regular tours of the caves.


Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry arrow

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better