The Caves at Hanging Rocks, East Lothian

The beaches and coastline of East Lothian are well known for their golden sands and lush golf courses. Less well known are the Hanging Rocks caves, which lie to the east of the town of Gullane. It may not look far on a map, but the walk is hard going, up and down rocky outcrops and high dunes, certainly not for the faint hearted.

The coast near Gullane, East Lothian

The coast near Gullane, East Lothian

One the way I spotted the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel, thought do date from the 16th Century and probably once roofed in turf, now just a messy jumble of windswept stones.

The scant remains of St Patrick's Chapel, Gullane

The scant remains of St Patrick’s Chapel, Gullane

The bay which is bordered by the so called Hanging Rocks is beautiful, its long strip of yellow sands opening up onto fine views of the Firth of Forth and the craggy island of Fidra to the north east. The day I visited was cold and breezy, but the wide blue sky and bracing fresh air more than made up for the bitter chill.

The bay next to Hanging Rocks, East Lothian

The bay next to Hanging Rocks, East Lothian

The location of the caves themselves is not obvious; I had neglected to bring a map with me, and it was only when I spotted a thin line of footprints leading up through the bushes at the foot of the cliffs that I knew I had come to the right place. I followed the footprints up the steep, sandy slope, slipping and sliding my way towards the base of the rocks.

The westward cave is rather disappointing. Although it once may have been a sizeable cavern, recent erosion has caused the roof to collapse and slide down the slope. All that remains now is a shallow niche, its sides blackened with the soot from ancient fires.

The east cave at Hanging Rocks

The east cave at Hanging Rocks

I knew that a more impressive cave lay somewhere nearby, so I carefully picked my way back down the slope, and soon found another trail heading up an even steeper incline towards the east. At the top of this climb I found the second, much larger cave at Hanging Rocks.

This cavern is far more interesting, its depths hidden in dark shadows, cold water dripping from the low roof. A squat wall of indeterminate age covers half of the entrance, supporting a rather precarious rock outcrop. Archaeological investigations in the cave have uncovered evidence of human habitation dating back to the Iron Age, with Roman pottery, spearheads and a quern stone suggesting that this place has a long, if rather mysterious history. Nowadays it is damp, gloomy and far from homely, modern detritus suggesting more recent human (hopefully temporary!) occupancy.

Inside the east cave at Hanging Rocks

Inside the east cave at Hanging Rocks

I didn’t spend long inside, and it was almost a relief to get out of the claustrophobic space back into the bright wintry sunlight. There’s always something magical about caves, but this place has a strange atmosphere, dank and rather forbidding. Emerging through the small cavern mouth, I struggled further up the slope, thorny branches pulling at my clothes, and emerged from the bushes onto the sterile, perfectly clipped lawn of a golf course fairway. The spell cast by Hanging Rocks was well and truly broken.


7 Responses to “The Caves at Hanging Rocks, East Lothian”

  1. Sounds like you had fun, but I find flat walking a lot easier than the ups and downs. I’m sorting through some pics of a canal walk I did on the weekend. Very long, but very flat. 🙂

  2. You took some nice pictures! I love your description of the thorns holding you back from the perfect golf course fairway.

    • Thank you so much. It really is a beautiful part of the world, and despite visiting it many times I only found out about these caves very recently. They are an undiscovered gem – always the best kind.

  3. Richard Spence Says:

    Reblogged this on THE MOUTHPIECE and commented:

  4. Neil Denholm Says:

    The locals call this cave, smugglers cave. All the locals from North Berwick and Gullane know it as we all played in it as kids.

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