Wemyss Caves to have protective grilles installed to preserve ancient carving

Fife’s Wemyss Caves are to have protective grilles installed in order to help preserve the dozens of ancient symbols carved into the cave walls, some of which are among the oldest in Scotland.

Friday, 24th June 2022, 1:57 pm
The caves will be protected with grilles.
The caves will be protected with grilles.

The caves attract high numbers of visitors from the local area and further afield, but their survival has long been put at risk by harmful activities in the caves —particularly at night.

The Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society (SWACS) has been working for several years to put a solution in place that allows people full access to the caves during the day whilst protecting them from overnight damage.

In recent years the caves have been targeted by vandals, with graffiti being scrawled in Jonathon’s Cave.

An artist's impression of how the grilles will look.

Words, initials and symbols, including the anarchy symbol, had been marked on the walls of the historic cave using spray-paint, emulsion and chalk, with paint discovered on top of some of the ancient Pictish drawings.

Now, thanks to funding from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and Fife Environment Trust (FET), new grilles with lockable gates will be installed this year in those areas of Jonathan’s Cave and Court Cave which contain historic carvings.

Mike Arrowsmith, chair of SWACS said the move would help ensure the caves are preserved for future generations.

He said: “These carvings are rare and unusual, and very important for the understanding of early Scottish history.

One of the carvings.

"Our consultation two years ago showed overwhelming local support for the protective gates.

"The decision has not been taken lightly. It comes after many years of managing the constant damaging impacts of a small minority of people using the caves.

"Every weekend over the summer months, we clear up and document evidence of bottles smashed against the cave walls, spray painted graffiti over the carvings, fires inside the caves and drug use.

“By closing them at night, we can protect the caves for future generations and create a safe and pleasant environment for local people and visitors to enjoy this priceless heritage.

"The Wemyss Caves are an invaluable asset and have enormous potential to generate income for the community as a visitor destination, but if we don’t take action now to secure the carvings, future generations in East Wemyss will lose out on their inheritance”.

Amy Eastwood, Head of Grants at HES, said: “We are delighted to support this work with £30,224 as part of our Historic Environment Repair Grant programme.

"The Wemyss Caves are an important part of Scotland’s heritage, and this project will help to ensure the long-term preservation of the historic Wemyss Caves and the ancient carvings located inside.”

Fife Environment Trust said: “We are pleased to be offering a funding contribution through the Scottish Landfill Communities Fund (SLCF) to enhance the environment of the Wemyss Caves and their coastal setting and secure a nationally important heritage asset which has enormous potential for tourism and community benefit.”

The protective grilles will incorporate Pictish symbols in their design and are currently being fabricated by Kirkcaldy-based contractors Legge Steel. Preparation work has begun on site and the grilles will be installed in the coming weeks.