Here, we explain our plans for protection of the caves and why it is needed. At the end of the page there is a consultation form which we would be very grateful if you could complete. If you would like more information before completing the form, we have arranged two consultation meetings via Zoom. If you would like to take part in one of these consultation meetings, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll send you a link to take part.
The meetings will take place on:
- Sunday 28th February at 3pm
- Monday 1st March at 7pm
Why protect the caves?
The Wemyss Caves are important because of the number and character of ancient symbols carved into some of the cave walls. Many of these were created by the Picts over 1,500 years ago. Recent archaeological work has produced scientific dating evidence that the carvings may be some of the very oldest to survive anywhere in Scotland. They are rare and unusual, and very important for the understanding of early Scottish history.
The caves are also of course a source of pride for local people and an important historic asset for the local community. They attract high numbers of visitors from the local area and further afield, and thousands of people across the globe visit the Wemyss Caves websites and interact on social media.
Over 35 years, Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society (SWACS) have worked tirelessly to look after the Wemyss Caves and enhance the safety and enjoyment of visitors. This includes paths improvements, vegetation management, and the provision of interpretation boards, benches and picnic tables.
The threat to the Wemyss Caves
Growing visitor numbers to the Caves and positive feedback show that these site improvement measures have been successful, but they are being put at risk by activities in the caves—particularly at night. These activities pose the highest possible risk to the continuing survival of the carvings. Preventing access to the most at-risk caves after dark will go a long way to managing this risk, and to achieving our collective aim of passing on the precious heritage in the Wemyss Caves to future generations.
SWACS was founded in 1986 as a result of a car being driven into Jonathan's Cave and set alight, resulting in the destruction of an important panel of Pictish carvings. As a result, barriers were erected at Jonathan's Cave, but the design and materials used proved inadequate for the location and were soon breached.
Unfortunately, vandalism and anti-social behaviour are still issues at the Wemyss 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.
These activities not only threaten the carvings, they are also dangerous for the young people involved. There is no mobile phone signal inside the caves and access for emergency services is very difficult in the dark. There is no vehicular access to the caves. The unwanted and hazardous rubbish left behind is both unsightly and a potential source of harm for visitors.
The main way in which SWACS tackles damaging and risky uses of the caves is by raising awareness locally of their value through regular site tours, open days and events, and through outreach work with local schools. Our programme of landscape maintenance and improvements are designed to provide a pleasant, safe environment for everyone to enjoy.
However, the continuing problems with anti-social behaviour and vandalism mean we now need to urgently implement measures to protect the carvings and keep people safe whilst allowing maximum access to the caves for the local community and visitors from elsewhere.
Well Cave is already gated and closed because of rockfall and an incident a few years ago when a number of wheelie bins were set on fire inside the entrance. We are now seeking to extend this protection to those areas of the other caves most at risk.
Jonathan’s Cave and Court Cave contain the highest number of Pictish carvings. We propose to reinstate the grilles at Jonathan’s Cave and erect new grilles inside Court Cave to manage access to the area that contains the carvings of greatest importance.
The grilles would be open during daylight hours and secured at night. This could be achieved with tamper-proof locking gates, which could operate on a timer, alongside a network of local wardens. We hope to be able to employ a local resident as the gatekeeper.
The images below help visualise the new grilles in position in Jonathan’s Cave and Court Cave. They are based upon advice from specialist contractors and Historic Environment Scotland and have been created to scale using our digital 3D model of the caves. The final design, position and style will be determined in the course of local consultation and further expert advice, and will meet best practice accessibility standards. It is part of our long-term plans to provide a wheelchair-accessible path into Court Cave. It will also be possible to integrate artistic representations of the carved symbols they are protecting into the design.
Implementing these proposals will cost up to £100,000. SWACS will apply to suitable grant-giving organisations for the bulk of the funding, and make up the rest through fund-raising and by approaching stakeholders for contributions to costs and in-kind.
The majority of Court Cave will remain open at all times. The important Pictish carvings in the main chamber would be protected by two grilles, one with a gate to permit access during daylight hours.
The brick wall at the end of Court Cave passage would be removed and replaced with a grille with no gate. The entrance to the passage would be protected by a new grille and gate.
Jonathan's Cave would be protected by a grille and gate set into the existing concrete plinth. The current damaged grille would be removed and a new grille inserted into the space between the two chambers.
Tell us what you think
The decision to pursue the installation of physical protection at Jonathan’s Cave and Court Cave has not been taken lightly. It comes after many years of managing the constant damaging impacts of a minority of people misusing the caves.
SWACS are committed to protecting the caves for future generations and creating a safe and pleasant environment for everyone to enjoy now.
We are very keen to get feedback on these proposals from local residents and visitors to the caves. This will help us gauge the level of support in the community, and your comments and suggestions will help refine the project. Please tell us what you think using the form below. Or if you prefer, email us your questions and comments at email@example.com.