Sawney Bean's Cave

South Ayrshire | Ballantrae | Cave | ★★★

[Sawney Bean's Cave (centre)]

It's a name guaranteed to send a shiver down many a spine (especially if you've visited The Edinburgh Dungeon). Folklore tells that Sawney Bean was the head of a cannibalistic Scottish clan who inhabited a deep sea cave on the South Ayrshire coast. Each night Sawney, his equally savage spouse and two generations of their offspring would ambush unwary travellers on the nearby highway: their dismembered bodies forming the staple of a murderous diet. We can't vouch for whether any of the tale is true, but what's certain is that you can still travel along the highway (today the A77) where the ambushes may have happened, then follow in the clan's footsteps down to the cave where victims were devoured. The cave is a couple of hundred metres long, pitch black at the back (torches required!), and several degrees colder than outside - even on the warmest and sunniest of evenings. You might even have company, but from nesting pigeons rather than Sawney's descendants. Graffiti covers the walls - oddly making the place seem all the more menacing - but thankfully no body parts are to be seen. The cave entrance is tidal and the best light falls on the bay late in the day - detailed directions are below.

[Entering the cave involves scaling a large boulder]

Location & info

📌 Sawney Bean's Cave ★★★
North end of Balcreuchan Bay, off A77 3 mi north of Ballantrae, G.R.: NX 099876 ///method.storeroom.start
Always open, tides permitting (see below) | Free

[Ailsa Craig]


The cave is labelled on 1:25000 and 1:50000 OS maps, and in real life appears as a vertical slit at the north end of Balcreuchan Bay. From the layby at G.R.: NX 100875 ///line.blotches.jetted it's a 10-min walk / scramble to the cave - care is needed. Follow the faint, grassy path north and then west from the layby, along the cliffs to the north end of the bay. The descent to the shore is on a very steep, often muddy path. The cave entrance should be obvious, with a scramble over a large boulder (hands needed) to reach the entrance. The approach to the cave is just below the high tide mark - though it was OK an hour before high water on our visit.

[Start of the path to the beach / cave]

[Balcreuchan Port - cave is out of sight directly below]

[Ailsa Craig]

[Entering the cave]

[Balcreuchan Bay]


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