Wemyss Caves – prehistoric art lessons

Prehistoric views from Wemyss

We don’t know what the strange markings on the wall are or why many of them were made. We probably never will know and this is what makes them so fascinating. The Wemyss Caves lie on the Fife Coast a few miles north of Kirkcaldy. Many of us live in new or relatively new houses. My first house was a railway terrace built the year Queen Victoria was made Empress of India – 1876. It seems old, but it’s a newbuild compared to the Wemyss Caves. Imagine stepping inside a dwelling, albeit derelict these days, that has been home to humans for thousands of years.

The word Wemyss is derived from the Celtic ‘Uamh’ meaning cave. These caves, which look out onto the busy shipping lanes of the Firth of Forth, have been visited or occupied by cave-dwellers, Picts, early Christians, Norsemen and smugglers. We visited the caves on a blustery October day when any shelter was gratefully received. An icy wind was whipping off the Forth. The waters were grey, broken by chopping white horses. Snow was threatening in the north towards Tayside. Inside the cave it seemed like a vacuum, to be away from the howling wind and crashing waves. The colours inside the cave were beautiful – emerald greens and sandstone ochres – caused by the damp and the leaching of salts from the rock. Several of the caves are blocked off or carry warning signs but it is possible to enter some and imagine what life must have been like. The obvious conclusion is: pretty uncomfortable by modern standards. But these were hardy people used to making a living from the sea. The Pictish symbols show elephant-type creatures, double discs and other animals while the Christian symbols that feature are the cross and fish. The Vikings have depicted Thor, Freya and Odin. You can read a great deal more and see photographs by clicking here for Frank Rankin’s excellent, informative website.


About richlakin

I write about things that interest me
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