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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016953

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The caves formed in the sandstone cliffs to the northeast of East Wemyss have been the focus of antiquarian and archaeological interest since 1865 when Professor James Young Simpson visited them and found their walls 'to be covered at different points with representations of various animals, figures and emblems'. What particularly excited the discoverers was that several of the the incised markings could be compared to those on Pictish symbol stones, the significance of which was at that time becoming apparent as a result of John Stuart's work on cataloguing them. Careful drawings of the markings were made for the second volume of Stuart's 'The Sculptured Stones of Scotland' (published in 1867) and these, amplified by photographic surveys in the early years of this century and again in the 1920s, have provided the basic record. Between 1984 and 1985 further drawing was undertaken, and it is clear that several areas of carvings have been lost, and perhaps even more sadly other markings in 'Pictish style' have been added; here we list only the most interesting and apparently authentic markings.

The Court Cave has a main cavern and a smaller narrow cave at its entrance. In the narrow cave there is a figure brandishing a spear (possibly knobbed) and an animal; other symbols have flaked away. In the main cave, a marking sometimes described as a 'sceptre', a floriated rod flanking a symbol akin to a double-disc, is the clearest. There is a double-disc symbol on a higher ledge. Not all the other symbols on this wall, however, appear to be ancient for they were not included in the drawings of the last century, though several of the triangular motifs are visible in early photographs. It is in the Court Cave that James V is said to have met up with a gypsy band while travelling incognito; finding himself in some danger, tradition has it that he calmed the proceedings by throwing off his disguise.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

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