Author Topic: Sawney Bean's Cave  (Read 13281 times)

Offline Roger W

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Sawney Bean's Cave
« on: July 05, 2011, 08:42:42 pm »
Alleged home of the famous Scottish cannibal...

http://www.ayrshirescotland.com/sawneybean.html

"About 150 feet below the car park [at Bennane Head 8 miles south of Girvan] is a cave that is thought to run almost one mile into the hillside..."

Sounds worthy of a visit.  Does anyone have any experience of the sea caves around here?
"That, of course, is the dangerous part about caves:  you don't know how far they go back, sometimes... or what is waiting for you inside."   JRR Tolkein: "The Hobbit"

Offline rhychydwr1

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2011, 08:37:05 am »
Yes

Offline rhychydwr1

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2011, 08:45:44 am »
SAWNEY BEANE’S CAVE [1]   NGR NX 0993 8761   Explorer 317   Girvan
Marked Sawny Bean’s Cave on Explorer 317.  Length 150 feet.
Going north from the car park at the highest point of the A77 road to Girvan, at Bennane Head, a footpath can be seen leading down to the beach, marked Balcreuchan Port on Explorer 317.  The cave is on the north side of the beach.  At high tide a natural ledge leads round the base of the cliff to the rift in front of the cave entrance. 

Pretty much as described by the GSS, “ ... the entrance remains almost invisible till your your up against it.  Set in volcanic instrusions the cave extends 50 yards into the 200 ft high cliffs and is 6 yards wide at its widest point reaching an overall height of 25 feet”, still adorned inside with white spray-can graffiti.  No obvious signs of cannibal feasting.

Glas SS Jl April 1978 6-8 S
Personal communication, John Pickin 6 May 2005.

see survey on page 17

Offline rhychydwr1

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2011, 11:18:14 am »
SAWNEY BEAN

The following account of  Sawney Bean is based on Nicholson.  Sawney is a diminutive of Alexander which was his full name, Sawney is also the Ayrshire dialect for Sandy.   Sawney Bean was the son of an East Lothian hedger and ditcher, born in the early fifteenth century, during the restless reign of King James I.  He was from the start a wastrel, and his father's industrious manners being uncongenial to him, he left home and began wandering the countryside.  He was a brute, a young man completely lacking in moral sense and apparently with a psychopathic instinct. Soon, with a woman whose character was as vicious as his own, he had established himself as a robber, and then a cannibal, in a cave on the western shore of Galloway.


At that time the greater part of the Scottish population lived in clachans and small villages scattered thinly among the mountains .and rough wilderness, and somewhat more densely throughout the regions of good agriculture.  Pockets of habitation sprang up, others were abandoned, the houses crumbled into earth and soon vanished beneath the long grass, whin thickets and birch copses that extended for miles in every direction.  They were troubled times, and whilst the local forces kept order as they could, much of the country was remote, the roads were little better than potholed tracks, authority was largely centralised at a considerable distance, and in any case the court itself was in a state of great unrest.  Many of the great Highland chiefs were executed in Inverness: ultimately the king himself was assassinated at Perth.  The local landowners kept order among the poorer people as they were able, but whole tracts of land were beyond their jurisdiction and control, and there the footpads and lawless brigands did pretty much as they pleased.

In such a place, a lonely shore not far from the western road, Sawney Bean and his loving, fertile spouse settled down.  They had a living family of fourteen, eight sons and six daughters; and from an early age, incestuously, eighteen grandsons and fourteen granddaughters.  Never did they mingle with other society, but were entirely sufficient unto themselves.  In fact they lived like animals, by tooth and claw, and that seems the best way to visualise and understand them.  For they lived greatly on human flesh, setting ambushes for single people and even small parties on the lonely tracks and roads of the district.  Realising something of what would happen to them if they were caught, they were very careful, setting additional members of the family to either side of the spot where the ambush and slaughter were to take place, so that any victim escaping from the first assault would be caught and dragged down before he had gone many yards.

For a quarter of a century they inhabited the cave, and no-one ever escaped.  Neither was any trace found.  A poor workman, or a lady on horseback accompanied by servants, set out on a journey and did not arrive at their destination, that was all.

It is not quite accurate to say that nothing was ever seen again, for though the murderers grew to a family of considerable size, and there were many young stomachs to be filled, there were often some bits of their victims that were not eaten or wanted, and these were thrown into the sea at a good distance from the cave.  Occasionally they were washed up further along the coast, causing great horror and speculation.  Searches were carried out, but in that wild and waste land nothing was ever discovered.

For years it continued, and so great at length became the popular outcry that it reached the ears of the court far away in Edinburgh.  Spies and investigators were sent into the south-west to find out the truth.  The best they could discover was that people had sometimes stayed at inns on their travels, and in a number of instances the landlords were so trapped by circumstantial evidence concerning missing travellers that they were arrested and put to death.  Travellers also were executed, on the flimsiest of evidence, they, like the innkeepers, protesting their innocence to the very end.  But the authorities were determined that the outrages must cease, and hoped, by a ruthless repression, either to destroy those guilty or so frighten them that they would cease their activities.  The only effect, however, was to scare away a lot of the innkeepers, so that there was nowhere for travellers to stay, and consequently fewer people came to the district.  Cut off, to a large extent, and doubly frightened, many families moved to other areas.  But still men and women continued to vanish.  A number of the king's spies, searching the countryside, were never seen again.

As Sawney's family grew in size and strength, occasionally a group as large as five or six would disappear on the road, though they would never tackle more than two if they were mounted.  The cannibals were unable to eat as much as this, and whilst some was thrown into the sea, quantities of limbs were pickled in brine or hung to dry from the roof of the cave, legs and arms, haunches, neck joints, ribs and backs.  Though they did not bother particularly with their dress, and the children went naked, there was no shortage of clothes, nor money either, for by the time they were captured, after twenty-five years of cannibalising the district, it was estimated that they had killed and eaten more than one thousand people.

On the day of a fair a man and his wife were returning home on horseback when they were set upon by the ferocious gang.  The woman was riding pillion behind her husband, and while he drew his sword and fought the murderous cannibals off, clinging to the saddle and his feet set firmly in the stirrups, she was largely unprotected and clutching hands broke her grasp about his body.  In the struggle and dusk he saw her dragged to the ground, her head yanked back by the hair, and her throat slashed open with a big knife.  Then the women fell upon her and began squabbling over her blood, drinking it as fast as they were able.  She was disembowelled. It happened in an instant, like a nightmare. The man, seeing it, fought in a frenzy.

Doubtless he would have suffered the fate of all the other victims if a party of thirty people, also returning from the fair, had not at that moment come down the rough track towards them.  For the first time finding themselves outnumbered, Sawney Bean and his family made their escape, dragging with them for some distance the body of the dead woman.  Her husband cried to the approaching company and told them what had occurred, which at first they could not believe.  Then they followed the retreating family and found the butchered body of his wife lying on the ground.  There seemed no doubt that they had discovered the fate of the missing travellers.

Some members of the party escorted the man to Glasgow, more than seventy miles away, where he told his tale to the magistrates.  Immediately the king was informed.  Three or four days later a party of four hundred men, led by King James himself, set out for the lonely district where the cannibals were thought to live.  With them they took bloodhounds.  It was the king's determination that once and for all the murderers must be brought to justice and destroyed.

They reached the place of the attack and saw the blackened blood on the earth.  They scoured the surrounding countryside, but no trace was to be found that gave any clue to the family's whereabouts.  Descending to the shore they examined a number of small caves and viewed water-filled caverns, but nowhere did it seem remotely possible that as many people as would populate a small village might live.  They departed and searched again inland.

When they returned to the shore the tide was low, and they saw that now some of the larger sea caves were just accessible, black above the rocks and lapping water, or sea-rippled sand.  No-one, they thought, would inhabit any place so awful, and did not even bother to search them, but continued along the shore.  By chance, however, two or three of the bloodhounds entered one of the caverns and set up a tumult of baying.  Some of the king's party followed and entered the dripping dungeon.  Ahead of them a grim, twisting tunnel retreated into blackness.  Bloodhounds strained at their leashes, and those running free pressed on ahead into the darkness and would not come back.  Their baying and yelping was deafening in the confined space.  Filled with foreboding the men retreated to the entrance and sent for torches.

Holding the blazing brands aloft, with swords at the ready, the soldiers and bold spirits from King James's court advanced into the tunnel.  The tide, they saw from barnacles and sea-wrack, ran into it for two hundred yards.  They advanced further, beyond the weedy pools, and still further, by many labyrinthine twists and turnings, until it seemed they must have travelled a full mile underground.  Then the cave ahead opened out into a chamber.

As the flickering light of their torches touched the rocky walls and shadowy recesses of the roof they stopped, horrified.  For there the ghastly, gibbet-like larder of human limbs and parts hung drying on cords and ropes; and pickled in barrels of brine against the walls were the inner organs, hands and feet, and still more human flesh.  Clothes, taken from their victims, lay strewn and piled in the corners, with mildewed scabbards and thigh boots, and a welter of rusting swords and muskets.  A rocky shelf nearby was piled high with glinting coin, and handfuls of other possessions, rings and watches and brooches, which fell in confusion to the ground.  And beyond, where the tunnel resumed at the inner end of the chamber, were the first watchful, crouching, silent members of Sawney Bean's family.

After desperate fighting and pursuits, men and women acting like wild animals, the children writhing and struggling, biting and stabbing ferociously with bits of sharpened bone, the entire family was captured and bound.  They numbered forty-eight.  The king's men were appalled.  The human remains were carried to the shore and buried in the sand.  The valuable spoils were tumbled into sacks and money bags.  Then, the cannibal family securely tied in single file.  King James led his party inland, eastwards towards Edinburgh.

News of their progress went before them, and crowds gathered in the streets to see the cannibals pass through.  They were not disappointed, for though they might be sullen, to the very last they acted like wild things.

In Edinburgh they were imprisoned in the Tollbooth.  The following day, trial being considered unnecessary, they were taken to Leith and executed.  Almost all died without showing the least sign of repentance, struggling and cursing their captors to the very end.  The men were dismembered, their private parts, hands and feet being severed from their bodies so that they bled to death in a short time.  The women, having been made witness of the men's fate, were burned alive in three fires.


FOOTNOTE

The first written account of Sawney Bean's family seems to have been a broadsheet dated about 1700.  Interestingly, for the time, this claims that the king was James VI of Scotland who was also King James 1 of England he is remembered as the witch persecutor and rooter-out of evil.  His tobacco tax was a great incentive to smuggling.  But it could have happened during the reign of James 1 of Scotland (1424-37) or later 1587-1603.  The key version, however, appeared in Historical and Traditionary Tales connected with the South of Scotland — better known as 'Nicholson's Tales' (1843).  This sets the story two centuries earlier, in the suitably more remote reign of James I.

There is some disagreement, too, in the location of the cave.  Several have been proposed, but that most commonly accepted is below Bennane Head, three miles to the north of Ballantrae, eight miles from the Wigtownshire border.  Nicholson, however, describes it as 'a cave by the seaside on the shore of the county of Galloway'. cf Bennan Head Cave, Borness Cave, Tramp’s Cave, and one of the two Sawney Bean’s Caves below.

A “Google” search for Sawney Bean produced 5200 hits.  I only looked at the first 50.
Atkinson 49-50
Crockett, S R 1896 The Grey Man.  This novel was one of the first books to associate this cave with Ballantrae.
Daily Mail [Scottish edition] August 6, pp 44-45, illus.   Centre page colour spread on Sawney Bean.  Not sure if it appeared in the English editions.
Gracie, James 1994  The Gruesome Tale of Sawney Bean;  The Scots Magazine, Sept. p 268-272
Gribble, Leonard 1972 More Famous Historical Mysteries.  152 pp  Frederick Muller Ltd.  pp 18-32  Sawney Bean’s Secret Clan.  A good readable account.
Holmes p 139 suggests that it is a legend used as anti Scottish-propaganda.
Horan, Martin 1990  Scottish Executions Assassinations and Murders.  90 pp Chambers.  pp 69-73 The Bestial Beans / Sawney Bean and the Bean Family.  Précis of Grimble.
Hamilton, Judy 1999 Scottish Murders.  Edinburgh, Lomond Books. [not seen]
Hutcheson, Alexander 1919 Early Underground Dwellings in Scotland.   35 Proc & Trans Dundee Nat Soc 1 Part II, 35
Jane, Natalie,  2003 Cave, Grave and Catacombs: Secrets from Beneath the Earth.  Australia, Prior. [not seen]
Kempe, David 1988 Living Underground / A History of Cave and Cliff Dwelling.  256, illus.  The Herbert Press, London.  194
Lawson,   Places of Interest about Girvan. [not seen]
Macleod 243 barbecues should be held on the shore, 262
McWhirter, N & R 1973 Guinness Book of Records 195
Tatt, Harry 1990   The Ballard of Sawney Bain [sic] 471 pp Polygon, Edinburgh.  To expand the story of Sawney Bean into a 400 page historical novel is a marvel.  I am glad that I did not have time to read it.
Prest, Thomas Preskett 1846 [?] Sawney Bean; the Man-Eater of Midlothian [from Holmes p 22]
Robertson, Elizabeth 1993  Snib Scott, Banker to Caveman.  Scot Mag 139 (2) 141-144, illus.
Roughead, William 1934  Rogues Walk Here.  Cassell & Co Ltd.  pp 75-  The Monster of Ballantrae; or the last of the ogres.  p 76  Puts the cave at Bennane.  p 80 Cannot trace the story further back than the 18th century.  facing page 80 [engraving – copied] Sawney Bean at the Entrance of his cave.   p 81 [précis copied]  A General History of the lives and Activities of the most Famous Highwaymen, Murders, Street-Robbers, etc.  To which is added a genuine Account of the Voyages and Plunders of the most Noted Pirates, Interspersed with several Remarkable Trials of the most Notorious Malefactors, and the Sessions House in the Old Bailey London.  Adorned with the Effigies, and other material Transactions of the most remarkable Offenders, engraved on Copper Plate by Capt Charles Johnson.  London 1734 and Birmingham 1742.
Sayers, Dorothy L (ed) 1977 Human and Inhuman Stories.  New York, Manor Books. [not seen]
Sloan J M  1908 Galloway 311 pp 24 col plates 18 B&W p 151 Sawney Beane’s Cave
Temperley 288-293, this is the best account of Sawney Bean to date, and is based on Historical and Traditionary Tales. Connected with the South of Scotland – better known as `Nicholson’s Tales (1843).
Weir, Tom 1998 Land, Sea and Ayrshire.  Scots Mag 148 (6) 643-648
Welsh, Helen 2004 Cannibals! a story of Sawney Bean.  Dunfermline, Gallus Publications.  69 pp illus.  Ten year old Alex thinks his problems are bad enough when he is sent to a children’s home at Ballantrae.  But then he finds himself being bullied because he shares the same name as a notorious cannibal of the seventeenth century.  Is he really descended from cannibals?  Alex enlists the help of Malkie, a scary looking fourteen year old, to search for the truth and clear his name.
Wilkinson, G T ed. 1963 The Newgate Calendar 16-19

Offline Roger W

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2011, 01:08:13 pm »
Ha, yes!  There is a strong suspicion that the whole Sawney Bean saga was a nasty piece of Sassenach propaganda to denigrate the honest, clean-living kilt-wearing folk north o' the border.

But there are undoubtedly sea-caves in the area ol' Sawney was supposed to frequent.

50 yards makes for a reasonable cave to poke into with the kids, I suppose.  But it's a long way short of the rumoured "almost one mile" on what appears to be the official Ayrshire website.

Oh well...
"That, of course, is the dangerous part about caves:  you don't know how far they go back, sometimes... or what is waiting for you inside."   JRR Tolkein: "The Hobbit"

Offline rhychydwr1

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2011, 05:35:10 pm »
There are plenty of other caves in the area.  Here is the nearest:

BENNAN HEAD CAVE   NGR NX 091 866   Explorer 317   Girvan
Marked Bennane Cave on Explorer 317  aka Snebb’s [or Snib’s] Cave after the nickname of the troglodyte who was living in the cave at the time of the Glasgow Speleological Society visit in 1978. 

Snib Scott’s real name was Henry Ewing Torbet, universally known as Snib.  Some say this was because he always snibbed every gate behind him.  He took up residence just after the Second World War.  The details of Snib’s life are sketchy.  He was born in 1912, and until he was 33 appeared to live a conventional life in Dundee, working for 11 years in a bank and becoming engaged to be married.  Why he suddenly left such a well paid and secure job is a mystery.  He simply severed all connections with the past and took to the road. 

When next seen , he was wandering around the Arrochar, living the life of a vagrant.  From there he made his way to Waterside in Ayrshire, where he settled in a derelict miner’s cottage for a period, eventually arriving at Bennan Head Cave which was to become his home until his death in 1983. 

For many years Snib was self sufficient.  There were plenty of rabbits and left over potatoes.  He combed the beaches and brought back driftwood for his fire and fish to cook on it.  Instead of claiming state benefit, he gather bottles from the foreshore and exchanged them at the local shop for anything he needed. 

In summer he lead an idyllic existence, often sleeping out under the stars, but winters could be especially cruel, with a south-westerly gale which made the cave almost uninhabitable. In fact this is what killed him.  In December 1983 he was found in the cave suffering from hypothermia.  He was taken to hospital but died two days later.

There is a cairn on the seaward side of the road not far from the cave with the inscription:

HENRY EWING TORBERT
 (Snib)
of Bennane Cave
1912-1983
Respected and
Independent

About 3½ miles north of Ballantrae, the old road passes near the mouth of a large cave that penetrates Bennan Head for 70 feet .  The impressive entrance is about 30 feet high and 30 feet wide with a fine stone wall in front of it. The roof of the cave is blackened with smoke from many fires and there is a great pile of pigeon droppings in the middle of the first chamber which implies lots of pigeons roost there.  Fifty feet from the entrance is another wall with a doorway leading to a small chamber which was probably used by the cave inhabitants as a bedroom.  There are lots of bottles and wood on the floor, and possibly the remains of a bed.

This was the nightly refuge of gypsies and other tramps.  According to Carrick tradition, it was the dwelling place of the monstrous ogre, Sawney Bean, the cannibal who had something more than justice meted out to him in Mr Crockett’s romance - The Grey Man.  cf Tramp’s Cave.
aka The Monster Cave

Brotchie, T C F [1911?] Rambles in Arran.  61, illus 31
Glass SS Jl 1 (1)
GSG 3 (3) 9
Hall 1912 47
Hall, T S, 1947 Tramping in Arran.  3rd ed.  Falkirk.  112, illus.  Caves 54, 73
MacBride  33 reprinted BC 23 56;  34 55
M’Arthur  85
Robertson, Elizabeth 1993  Snib Scott, Banker to Caveman.  Scot Mag 139 (2) 141-144, illus.
Statistical Account 1845 5 55-56

Offline rhychydwr1

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2011, 12:17:48 pm »
I nearly forgot.  There is a book......



THE CAVES OF SOUTH WESTERN SCOTLAND by Tony Oldham 2005  28 pp, 10 colour photos, including front cover.  This is a detailed gazetteer covering the area Dumfries-shire, Galloway, Kircudbrightshire and Wigtownshire.  This area is famous for its inhabited caves which date from Bronze Age times.  St Medan’s and St Ninian’s Caves were inhabited in the 8th century, whilst the most notorious inhabitant in the 16th century was Sawney Beane and his family who is reputed to have robbed and eaten over a 1000 travellers.  The only caving guide to this little known caving area.  Laminated covers.

PM me if you need more details.


Offline And

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2011, 12:07:54 pm »
There was a bit about this on the BBC Scotland program Landward on Friday. They seemed to take the story as complete fact...

From 19:12 onwards:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b018hgkb/Landward_2011_2012_Episode_25/

Offline rhychydwr1

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2011, 05:22:12 pm »
There was a bit about this on the BBC Scotland program Landward on Friday. They seemed to take the story as complete fact...


Well of course its fact.  It is written in a book.

Offline robjones

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2011, 12:29:04 am »
The not-dissimilar story of Christie Cleek long predates Sawney Bean and was recorded in Scots chronicles - so at least one story of deadful Highland canibals was not of English origin.  :smartass:

Offline Uamhair

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Re: Sawney Bean's Cave
« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2013, 10:15:49 pm »
It's a fun cave to pop into if you're passing Ballantrae.  Although a decent sized sea-cave, it branches off in a few places to make it more interesting than your bog standard straight line sea-cave.  You can certainly imagine a few folk living in there with separate sections for sleeping, dining and hacking / cooking dead bodies!

As an aside, the cave has been formed within the Ballantrae Ophiolite Complex.  In layman's terms, this is a relatively rare piece of oceanic crust which was pushed onto the continent as the now destroyed Iapetus Ocean (which formerly separated Scotland from England) closed ~480 million years ago.  You can make out some pillow lavas where molten rock formerly formed 'pillows' as it erupted onto the ocean floor and cooled almost instantly.