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In Search of Lord Pitsligo’s Cave

craggy coast

I’ve written about Lord Pitsligo before, briefly here in a post about his home, Pitsligo Castle, and then in more detail over at The Witch, The Weird and the Wonderful. He’s an intriguing character who hid around the Buchan countryside for three years following the battle of Culloden, for some of the time in a cave which is still referred to as Lord Pitsligo’s Cave. I had to find it.

floral coastline

A friend and I set off along the coast, heading West from Rosehearty, having read several conflicting accounts of the exact location of the cave. We knew it had been blown up by the home guard in WW2 and the lower entrance made inaccessible. Perhaps the best we would be able to say was that we’d walked near it?

white quartz line

We passed lines of white quartz and rocky plateaus and many craggy cliffs where we stopped and wondered: is this it?

rockpool

Then: yes! We knew we’d found the place. Seagulls flew up, angry about us being so close to their nests, but down we went into the bay.

Lord Pitsligo's Cave

It’s not too easy to discern in my shadowy pictures but there’s a pile of rubble where the lower entrance would have been and a small opening in the cliff above.

beach

My friend went back on a brighter day and zoomed in on the higher entrance:

cave

We walked further, along to Quarry Head, the site of a 16th century shipwreck (interesting story here), and looked back across the various bays:

bluebells

It’s a stunning bit of coastline to explore; the cave is about two miles from Rosehearty. Picture below taken on another day just before a thunder storm, note the tiny white sailing boat in the centre:

stormy sky

Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.

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27 thoughts on “In Search of Lord Pitsligo’s Cave

    • There’s a story involving beer, hidden dynamite and an accidental rifle shot, but that may not be true. Possibly they feared it might be used by enemy soldiers?

    • It is true that the Home Guard blew up the entrance to the cave. The reason for this became clear when an number of spies were taken near Rosehearty. With one actually living in the town for a period until he was discovered. The HG Corporal took it on his own hands to do this but there was an almighty row following this incident. Therefore blown up during 1941/42.

    • There were several spys caught at Rosehearty during WW11 and the mood was very intense and therefore one corporeal who lived near the cave took it that the cave had once been a very secure hiding place and thus could be used again by some of the numerous spys entering the country from Norway. He did but was severely reprimanded for his action.

  1. You have the best adventures! And the most scenic. One thing Scotland has in abundance is weather! Oh, the other thing – magnificent scenery!

  2. Pingback: Pitsligo Castle and Peathill Kirk - Ailish Sinclair

  3. I love this part of the coast, but have never been able to take such good photographs of it. And I have joined the Alexander Forbes fan club, in fact am re-imagining his life in a novel

  4. It appears you have completely ignored the tremendous story of Lord Pitsligo and his dramatic escape from the Hanoverian soldiers during 1746 to his death in 1762. A story that films are made of and yet completely ignored.

      • I find it fascinating that Lord Pitsligo is still “alive” in the minds of North-East folks today. I guess it was not only his courage and exciting life as a fugitive that make him live on, but also his repuation as a very humane laird. I reimagined some of his life myself in a wee novella “Over westwards”

  5. Yes reputation had much to do with it as during two famines in Scotland he was considered a man much advanced for his time as he opened his granaries to feed the poor. The result was that poor folks flooded the area and survived because of his action.The descendants of these people settled in the upper barony called New Pitsligo
    Then in his time of need after the “45” he was too old to travel abroad and so he dressed as a beggar and traveled his estate wandering from croft to croft, hiding in caves, under bridges and anywhere he could. Although £400 was placed on his arrest and this value increased to near £1,000 none gave him away.
    There were a number of very close encounters with the Redcoats but it all came to nothing. He even led them to his old cave at Rosehearty and the Captain awarded him a shilling. He received payment several times from them as he was so helpful and so well known to them. However, little did they know who he really was. I wrote a feature in the Scots Magazine- May 1980 titled The Vanishing Laird. His life is well recorded A. and H. Tayler did much on him. Sir Walter Scot was fascinated by his story and prepared to write on his life but certainly did a sketch.

    Sorry have to rush JT

  6. I wonder why Lord Pitsligo’s son didn’t join him in the ’45 , when Forbes senior was over sixty and suffering from asthma, and the son would have been in this 30s. Any ideas?

  7. The son was married to a memsie family and both his brother-in-laws went with Lord Pitsligo, and it was always assumed that if he was at home then there was little danger of loosing the estate as the son would step in, but as you know this did not happen and thus the estate was forfeited. Pitsligo knew well enough that this was a rash venture but there were two issues here: first his strong support for the Stuarts and secondly his dismay at the removal of the Scottish Parliament. He protested robustly against this action. Therefore you could say he was indeed a loyal supporter of Scottish independence and today an ardent follower of the SNP.

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