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Culzean Coves, caves

A Scheduled Monument in Girvan and South Carrick, South Ayrshire

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Latitude: 55.3548 / 55°21'17"N

Longitude: -4.7891 / 4°47'20"W

OS Eastings: 223283

OS Northings: 610295

OS Grid: NS232102

Mapcode National: GBR 43.4MLB

Mapcode Global: WH2Q6.DNQT

Entry Name: Culzean Coves, caves

Scheduled Date: 4 March 2002

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM10364

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: cave

Location: Kirkoswald

County: South Ayrshire

Electoral Ward: Girvan and South Carrick

Traditional County: Ayrshire


The monument comprises the remains of two cave systems, visible as modified cavernous features containing upstanding architectural elements and entrances.

These caves represent the earliest surviving visible components of Castle Coif, the predecessor of Culzean Castle, a property of the Kennedy's dating back to the 12th century. The architectural elements of the caves can be attributed chiefly to the 16th century. Early records refer to the caves as containing two wells.

The monument consists of two cave systems: the Main Cavern System located below the castle and the Stables Caves System located beneath the stable block. Each consists of three main caverns.

The present entrance to the Main Cavern System is through an arched doorway at the base of the cliff at beach level. At the easternmost side of Cavern A, there is a probable 'toilet annex', referred to as 'the closet' in Brereton's diary account of his visit to the area (1636); the remains of the excavations of a trench and an underground conduit system can be seen. The latter leads northwards and down towards the entrance. A downward sloping narrow passageway, with the remains of a doorway present half-way down it, is located on the W side of Cavern A and leads into Cavern B.

Cavern B is at a higher level, and also has an external arched masonry doorway. Two rubble masonry piers within this cavern, probably designed by Robert Adams, were added to help support the weight of the new castle. When excavated (by the Glasgow Speleological Society), the floor below these pillars showed signs of disturbance, probably due to the builders incorporating paving slabs from the floor in the construction of the pillars. A trench excavated to the SW of these pillars revealed bones, shells and charcoal above the old level of the floor.

At the SW corner of Cavern B is a small doorway now only c.0.9m high due to a build up of rubble on the floor (possibly dumped in the caves during the demolition and re-building of the castle). This doorway leads into the Inner Cavern (C). On the lower, northern side of Cavern C there is a tunnel now blocked with rubble. This tunnel may have been an additional exit from Cavern C, either to the outside or to another cave system.

There may have been other access points to the Main Cavern System: to the E of the present entrance is a small chamber (D), the doorstep of which was located at c.0.9m below the present floor level. When Chamber D was excavated, the floor level was not reached even at a depth of c.1.5m, so it is possible that it was a stairwell with access to the beach now buried.

A collapsed arch situated above and to the W of the upper entrance (Cavern B) may have been the exit of a latrine or rubbish shute from the old castle, or part of the drainage system of the brewhouse wing.

The Stable Caves System has two entrances, the eastern one being a narrow passage with a man-made archway at the innermost end; the other is a wider entrance which opens out to become the outer cavern (A). At the back of this cavern to the SE is a narrow cave (D). A narrow passage to the W leads into the second cavern (B), while there is access to the innermost cave (C) from the SW, over boulders and rubble.

From Cavern B, access to Cavern C is from the SE, at the top of the steep clay banking. At the top of this slope, directly S, there is another opening partially blocked with rubble. This is probably the entrance to unexplored passages and caves, the extent of which is not known, but which are referred to in several historical records and traditions.

The caverns seem to have been used extensively and may even have been lived in at some time. These appear to be natural sandstone caves that have been modified and enlarged, primarily during the medieval period when they formed seaward entrances and storage for the earlier castle.

The areas proposed for scheduling comprise only the underground and cliff-face remains described, along with areas on the beach front within which related material may be expected to survive. The scheduled area of the Main Cavern System is irregular in shape, with maximum dimensions of 42m from the easternmost to the westernmost points, by 50.50m from the northernmost to the southernmost points, as marked in red on the accompanying map.

The scheduled area of the Stable Caves System is also irregular in plan, with maximum dimensions of 37m from the easternmost to the westernmost points, by 52m from the northernmost to the southernmost points, as marked in red on the accompanying map.

The scheduling includes the caves and associated passages to the height of their ceilings. The upper areas above the ceilings, up to and including the contemporary ground surface and all structures thereon, are excluded from the scheduling. The modern drainage pipes on the beach and cliff are also excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monuments are of national importance as they represent the chief surviving visible remains of Castle Coif, the predecessor of Culzean Castle. They exhibit a complex pattern of modification and building, including some attributed to Robert Adam. The presence of deep stratified deposits, containing artefacts relating to the re-building of Culzean, indicate the potential of this monument to contribute to an understanding of the character and dynamics of medieval fortifications, and how these could be adapted within the development of the aristocratic county house.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NS 21 SW 1. 00.


(1799) 'Scotland Delineated', (2nd edition).

Abercrummie, Wm (1696) 'Description of Carrick'.

Biggar, M. (1794) 'Parish of Kirkoswald' in Sinclair, J. (ed) 'Statistical Account of Scotland'.

Brereton, Wm (1636) 'Early Travellers in Scotland'.

Chambers (1832) 'Gazetteer of Scotland', vol. II.

Forsyth, R. (1805) 'The Beauties of Scotland'.

Glasgow Spelaeological Society (1966) 'Newsletter, October 1966'.

Glasgow Spelaeological Society (1967) 'Newsletter, April 1967'.

Glasgow Spelaeological Society (1967) 'Newsletter, February 1967'.

Glasgow Spelaeological Society (1968) 'Newsletter, January 1968'.

Grose, F. (1791) 'The Antiquities of Scotland', vol. II.

Lawson, R. (1897) 'The Capital of Carrick'.

MacKinnon, D. 'Culzean Caves', unpublished account of the caves by Culzean County Park Ranger.


(1967) Culzean Caves, ref. E83735 PO.

(1967) Culzean Caves, ref. E83736 PO.


Heath, R. (1989) 099/52/01 Plan of Main Cavern System. 1:100.

Heath, R. (1989) 099/52/02 South-North Section of Chamber A, Main Cavern System; North-South Section of Chamber B, Main Cavern System, 1:100.

Heath, R. (1989) 099//52/03 North Elevation; West Elevation and West-East section of entrance, 1:50; Second Floor plan; first floor plan; ground floor plan,, Main chamber System, 1:50.

Heath, R. (1989) 099/52/04 Plan of Upper Level Garderobe 1:50; Plan of Lower Level Garderobe, 1:50; Elevation IV4, IV 6, 1:50; Elevation IV5, IV 4, Garderobe, 1:50; Elevation IV5, IV6, 1:50.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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