Cleeves Cove and the Covenanters
According to tradition, Cleeves Cove, aka. the Elfhame or Blair Cove, an extensive limestone cave in Dalry parish, Ayrshire, was used as a hiding place by Covenanters. Or was it? You decide.
The cove was recorded in the Old Statistical Account in the 1790s and mapped in 1833, but the first mention of its use by Covenanters appears in the New Statistical Account in the 1840s. NSA’s description on the cave is based on the OSA, but the latter does not mention it being known as the Elfhame or the Covenanters. (NSA, V, 211; OSA, XII, 105-108.)
‘On the estate of Blair, in the romantic and beautifully wooded Glen of the Dusk, there is a natural Cave in a precipitous, bank of Limestone. It is about 40 feet above the bed of the stream, and is covered by about 30 feet of rock and earth. It has two entrances. The west or main entrance is situated below a vast overhanging rock, 30 feet long by 27 in breadth, the brow of which is covered by the mountain ash, hazel and two large plane trees. Its interior resembles Gothic arched work. Part of the roof is supported by two massy columns. Its length is about 183 feet and breadth from 5 to 12. Near the middle, it expands into a spacious chamber, 35 feet long by 12 broad and 12 high. In former times, popular belief peopled it with elves. It consequently acquired the name of Elf house. In later days , during the tyrannical reign of Charles II it afforded a hiding place to the Covenanters of this Parish from the violence of their infuriated persecutors.’
According to the OS name book of the 1850s:
‘This Cave, well known in the locality as Cleeves Cove, is a hollow in a Limestone rock, varying from 5 to 3 feet broad and the same in height extending underground for several yards and has several windings. … The whole appears to be a natural formation.’
Like other traditional glen sites associated with the Covenanters, there is a Linn nearby, e.g. Holy Linn and Crichope Linn.
One informant for the OS for Cleeves Cove was William Fordyce Blair of Blair, a successful naval captain.
He also made a confused claim of very dubious historical veracity to the OS that John Graham of Claverhouse was involved in a battle with Covenanters from Cleeves Cove at Pencot:
‘Captain Blair who marked the site on Trace, states that in the year 1666, or 1668, a battle was fought here between the Parliamentarian army under Claverhouse, and the Covenanters. For some days previous to the engagement the Covenanters lay concealed in a place called ‘Cleeves Cove’ and afterwards marched in a Northerly direction, when, near to a place called ‘Pencote’ they were met by an opposing Army, both armies fought, but the result of the engagement is not known. A few relics have been found here, such as a pistol, and one or two other things of trifling importance, Captain Blair stated that he had in his possession some time ago a written document, referring to this action, though.’
Claverhouse did not begin his military career in Scotland until 1678.
According to the OS name book, Pencot, or Pencote, was also the property of Captain Blair.
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