To lose these caves would be a tragedy ...

Mike McFarlane at the Wemyss Caves
Mike McFarlane at the Wemyss Caves

THE Wemyss Caves have been used by many people over thousands of years including cave dwellers, early Christians and smugglers.

The caves at East Wemyss date back to Pictish times and contain several important carvings from between the fifth and ninth centuries. In fact, it is thought there are more ancient drawings there than anywhere else in Scotland.

Wemyss Caves

Wemyss Caves

They have survived for many generations, but in recent times fears have been raised the ancient caves could be lost to the sea and this has resulted in a new campaign to try and preserve them forever.

The series of seven natural caves were first described by Professor James Young Simpson who explored the caves in 1865 and many of them are still visible today. The drawings in the Wemyss caves are unique and they depict Pictish symbols, early Christian imagery and Viking representations.

They tell the story of the coast and the communities that lived and traded in the area as well as those who smuggled there. The drawings provide important information about Pictish imagery and reveal how life as well as death were represented at that time in history.

Unfortunately, three of the caves were lost due to mining at the Michael Colliery and the West Doo cave was lost due to a battery of gun fire above the cave in the First World War.

Court Cave drawings

Court Cave drawings

The last drawing was lost in 1986 when a car was driven into the Jonathans cave and set on fire. After this happened, the Save the Wemyss Ancient Caves Society (SWACS) was formed to save as many of the remaining caves as possible.

However, in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to preserve them as they are at risk of collapse, landslips and coastal erosion, so now action is being taken.

Earlier this year, Kirkcaldy SNP MSP David Torrance called on the Scottish Government to recognise the ongoing work to preserve the historic landmarks.

In April he led a debate in the Scottish Parliament and he has set up meetings with Fife Council and Historic Scotland to discuss the way forward.

He said: “The Wemyss caves are one of the jewels in the crown of Scottish history. In the long term, we are looking to set up a social enterprise to create employment in the area and market the Wemyss Caves as a major tourist attraction. I would like to see it classed as a world heritage site.

“We had our first meeting with Historic Scotland, SWACS, Wemyss Estates, The SCAPE Trust and Fife Council in Edinburgh and it went really well. We want to preserve the caves and retain their potential for the Wemyss area.”

Mike McFarlane, chairman of the SWACS, said another meeting is due to take place in Fife at the end of the month.

He said: “There are few sources of evidence regarding the Picts, there is no written history and this is why these symbols are rare. To lose these precious carvings would be a tragedy.

“Preserving the caves would bring jobs to the area. We also plan to have a visitor centre which can be accessed by people on the coastal path as well as schools and colleges.

“I want to congratulate all the politicians who have helped to raise the plight of this important Scottish heritage site.”

Claire Baker, Mid Scotland and Fife Labour MSP, said: “The Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society undertakes valuable work in campaigning for the caves preservation.

“It is important all options are considered regarding the future of the caves.”

Dave Paterson, Fife Council area services manager, said: “We’re just at the early stages of a formal engagement process.

“We’ve had one meeting as a group, hosted by Historic Scotland, which was informative and positive and which we will build on over the next few months.

“Our aim is to develop management options for the site to present to ministers in due course.”