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3 Jul 2023

The Wonders Of King’s Cave

There are numerous caves dotted along the coast of Arran, but one of the largest – and undoubtedly the most well-known – is King’s Cave. Read on to discover all about its history and how it came to get its name.

History of King’s Cave

Located on the west side of the island, King’s Cave is one of a series of caves that are roughly equidistant between the villages of Machrie and Blackwaterfoot. They are believed to have been formed between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago during an ice age.

King’s Cave will likely have served as a shelter for people for many centuries, possibly as far back as the Bronze Age. This is evidenced by the numerous carvings on the walls spanning different time periods; images of serpents, deer, horses, and crosses have been engraved and etched into the stone. Ogham inscriptions, a mediaeval style of alphabet which is sometimes referred to as the ‘Gaelic Tree Alphabet’ or ‘Celtic Tree Alphabet’, are also visible on the walls. In fact, before the cave was known as King’s Cave (prior to the Victorian period), it was referred to as Fingal's Cave, after Fionn mac Cumhaill, a fierce warrior who appears in Irish mythology. 

Why is it so named? 

The legend of King’s Cave originates from an article written by the author Sir Walter Scott in 1828, titled Tales of a Grandfather. As the story goes, this ancient cavern was once the refuge of none other than Robert the Bruce, the Scottish king who fought for independence against English rule in the early 14th century. Just months after being crowned King of Scots, Bruce suffered defeat in 1306 at the Battle of Methven, and was forced to retreat and go into hiding. 

It was while sheltering in this cave that he observed a spider, tirelessly spinning its web despite repeated failures, until it succeeded. It inspired Bruce to "try, try, and try again", leading to a decisive victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and culminating in the signing of the Edinburgh-Northampton Treaty recognising Scottish independence in 1328. 

Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn is immortalised in Robert Burns’ stirring poem, Robert Bruce’s March to Bannockburn, and Burns himself also has a strong connection to Arran. Born in Alloway in Ayrshire, Burns would have been able to see Arran most days from his home across the Firth of Clyde. 

Since 1998 — when we partnered with the World Burns Federation — we have been producing our Robert Burns single malt, in recognition of Lochranza Distillery being the closest distillery to Burn's Birthplace of Alloway, Ayrshire (at the time of the whisky’s creation).

Robert Burns background image

Exploring the mysteries of King’s cave

Today, you can follow in the footsteps of Robert the Bruce as you journey to King's Cave. Accessible via a scenic 3 mile circular coastal trail that winds its way through heather-clad moors and craggy cliffs, the walk starts just north of Blackwaterfoot from the well-signposted car park on the Machrie road. Following the path from the right hand side of the car park will lead you initially through forest. Once out of the trees you are rewarded with incredible views along the coast and out towards the mainland. After descending down a rocky gully, you will see the cliffs begin to appear to your left, with a path leading up to the imposing metal gate protecting King’s Cave. 

So, pack your bags, lace up your boots, and embark on an adventure to the heart of Arran.