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Caiplie, 'the Coves'

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

Site Name Caiplie, 'the Coves'

Classification Cave(S) (Period Unassigned), Hermitage (Period Unassigned), 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.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2022.

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Administrative Areas

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

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Caiplie, Chapel Cave, Fife, rock carvings


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: fair.


Traditionally used by hermits, this cave has many crosses incised on its walls and a Pictish symbol, mostly on the NE wall. The symbol comprised a Z-rod, and there are many (at least 17) simple linear crosses and some outlined linear crosses (Stuart recorded 7). An arch symbol is recorded in a smaller cave (Mortuary Cave) to the east but is no longer visible.

Date: seventh century or later.

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

Desk-based infomation compiled by A Ritchie 2016


Field Visit (9 July 1925)

Caiplie Cave.

This cave is situated on the foreshore about three-quarters of a mile north-east of Caiplie Farm. It appears to have been a natural cove on the rock face, which was artificially enlarged for use as a cell or dwelling place. The mouth, 12 ½ feet wide and approximately 16 feet in height, has at one time been protected by a slightly curved wall of masonry, of which only a few foundation stones now remain in situ. The wall stops short at a distance of 4 feet from the south-west corner to afford admission. The cave lies with its axis north-west and south-east, and the interior, which penetrates the rocky crag to an average depth of about 50 feet , is somewhat irregularly shaped. In the middle of its length it increases to a width of 16 feet, but decreases in height from the centre towards the back, where it is only 9 feet. The walls are sculptured with a series of incised and punched crosses, most of the sculpturings being on the north-east side. An arched doorway, 3 feet 6 inches in width and 5 feet in height, has been cut through the. south-west wall to provide an entrance to an adjoining cave, and about 4 feet from the mouth, at a height of 4 ½ feet from the floor, a rectangular recess has been hewn out on the same side.

RCAHMS 1933, visited 9 July 1925.

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


Recording Scotland's graffiti 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.

Between 2016 and 2017, phase 1 of the project aimed to:

Aim 1: review a range of historic and contemporary graffiti art from across Scotland, already present in Canmore.

Aim2: undertake a research review of previous approaches to recording graffiti art in Canmore and other HERs, review and develop the current Thesaurus terms.

Aim 3: test and develop a range of recording methods within the following programmes or projects: Discovering the Clyde programme (1223), Scotland’s Urban Past (1222), Architecture and Industry projects, such as Urban Recording Projects (1028), Area Photographic Survey (311) and the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Landscape Partnership (1167).

Aim 4: the following test sites will be considered for research into the range of historic and contemporary graffiti. They will be analysed to demonstrate the different ages, contexts, styles and survivals of historic and contemporary graffiti: Polphail village (Canmore ID 299112), Scalan farmstead (170726), Cowcaddens Subway Station (243099), Croick Parish Church (12503), Dalbeattie Armament Depot (76279) and Dumbarton Rock (43376).

Aim 5: to research the potential for social media to play a role in crowd-sourcing information and archiving Scotland’s graffiti art.

In 2017-2019, phase 2 of the project aimed to:

Aim 1: To enhance the NRHE to the point at which it can be said to adequately represent the broad range of historic and modern graffiti that is evident throughout Scotland, and to explore ways by which that information can best be disseminated.

Aim 2: To develop guidelines that will convey the HES approach to researching and recording graffiti.

Aim 3: To write a specification for a book on Scotland’s graffiti.

Aim 4: To develop external partnerships to explore further ways to record graffiti and to identify and explore potential funding streams to enable further knowledge exchange and research.

The project was managed by Dr Alex Hale, with contributions from staff across Herirtage and Commercial and Tourism directorates.


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