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Caiplie, 'the Coves'

Cave(S), Hermitage, Pictish Symbol Rock Carving(S) (Pictish)

Site Name Caiplie, 'the Coves'

Classification Cave(S), Hermitage, Pictish Symbol Rock Carving(S) (Pictish)

Alternative Name(s) Caiple Caves; Caplawchy; Firth Of Forth

Canmore ID 34025

Site Number NO50NE 6

NGR NO 5998 0583

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2016.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Kilrenny
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District North East Fife
  • Former County Fife


Caiplie, Chapel Cave, Fife, rock art


Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: NO 5998 0583

Present location: in situ.

Evidence for discovery: first recorded around 1831 and published by Stuart in 1867.

Present condition: weathered.


Traditionally used by hermits, this cave has many crosses incised on its walls and a few Pictish symbols, mostly on the NE wall. The symbols included an unidentified symbol with a Z-rod and two animals, and there are many (at least 51) simple linear crosses and some outlined linear crosses (Stuart recorded 7). An arch symbol is recorded in a smaller cave to the east but is no longer visible.

Date: seventh century or later.

References: Stuart 1867, pl 29; Fraser 2008, no 79.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016


Field Visit (26 August 1968)

As previously described. The name "The Coves" is the only name applied to this site by the locals. The name "Chapel Cave" could not be confirmed.

Revised at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 26 August 1968.

Desk Based Assessment (1968)

NO50NE 6.00 5998 0583

(Name NO 5998 0584). The Coves (NAT)

OS 6" map, (1912-38)

NO50NE 6.01 NO 5994 0581 Hermit's Well

The Coves - Two coves to the SE of Barnsmuir, on the sea shore, supposed to have been used by hermits or monks from the introduction of Christianity till the Reformation.

Original Name Book 1854

The Caves of Caiplie are situated in the parish of Kilrenny on the farm of Barnsmuir and have been formed by sea action.

One of the largest, called the Chapel Cave, measures 40ft from the entrance. It is irregular in shape and has been enlarged artificially. A wall closed it to the sea, but only the foundations remain. A pointed doorway on the S side opens into an outer narrow cave.

In various parts of the cave there are many small crosses on the walls, including a few modern ones, a cross of Greek form in a surrounding line, and many Latin crosses. Also in various parts of the cave, but especially in the narrow recess at the W end, holes have been cut in pairs in the rock to form "holdfasts" for passing ropes through.

About thirty six years ago, (c.1831) when Mr John Mackinlay surveyed the cave, it was more complete, in particular, a small chamber cut out of the rock above and arched over, and reached by steps cut out of the rock. This cell had later been used as a pigeon house.

In 1841, the flanking rock on the E side in front of the caves was found to be scooped out to form a niche or small grotto, with a seat in the inner end. The floor of the Chapel Cave was found to be clay, and outside the wall at its mouth was another and lower foundation, forming a terrace 4ft wide in front of the cave. The cave to the E was found

to be partly paved and partly levelled by rock. In front of this cave, human remains were found buried. Animal bones were found in front of and within the Chapel Cave.

The cave may be associated with the early preachers of the gospel. Traditionally, St Adrian founded a settlement on this part of the Fife coast about the middle of the 9th century. "Than Adriane wyth bys Cumpany "To gydder come to Caplawchy." (Wyntoun)

J Stuart 1867.

Information taken from Stuart. "There can be no doubt that Caiplie is the Caplawchy mentioned by Wyntoun as the place to which Adrian and his company came."

D H Fleming 1886.

Wace and Jehu date some crosses & animal representions on the walls of Constantine's Cave (NO61SW 6) to the Celtic Period, roughly AD800-1000, and then remark that at this time Constantine's Cave "was perhaps used as a chapel or hermitage, as apparently was the case with the caves at Caiplie, near Crail."

A V B Wace and Prof Jehu 1915.

Caiplie Cave. A natural cove artificially enlarged for use as a cell or dwelling place. The foundation of the wall at the mouth is slightly curved. The axis is NW-SE and most of the sculpturings are on the NE side.

RCAHMS 1933.

Information from OS.

Reference (1985)

There is a Z-rod in the Chapel Cave at Caiplie, but the symbol associated with it is illegible because of superimposed crosses. An arch symbol (or a crescent with circular indentation) has been carved near the far end of a small cave a little to the E.

RCAHMS 1985.

Field Visit (1996)

Cave used as byre for animals grazing coastal trip.

Site recorded by Maritime Fife during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, Kincardine to Fife Ness 1996


Scotland's graffiti art project was designed to review the range of historic and contemporary graffiti art across Scotland. It involved desk-based assessment and fieldwork at a number of example sites, to consider recording methodologies and dissemination practices.


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