Secrets of Whigs’ Hole near Barholm, Galloway

The Whigs’ Hole in Kirkmabreck parish lay close to the home of Henry MacCulloch of Barholm, who was forfeited for his part in the Bothwell Rising of 1679.

Map of the Whig’s Hole

Whigs Hole Kirkmabrack

The Whig’s Hole

In 1833, John Gordon Barbour recorded a tradition that the Whigs’ Hole in Kirkmabreck parish was used as a hide out be the Covenanters:

‘In portraying some antiquities of Scotland, and these antiquities somewhat connected with natural scenery, well may we notice the caves, or “Coves of Barholm.” In that bold and beautiful coast, which indents the bays of Fleet and of Wigton, in the southernmost shores of Scotland, there yet remain several coves or caves. None are more remarkable for either their scenery or antiquity than those we have mentioned. In a straight line betwixt the old castle of Barholm and the bay, and nearly opposite to the village of Garlieston, there are three remarkable perforations in the rocks. The one next to Kirkdale bears the name of the Cove of Barholm; that in the middle, the Kaa’s Cave; and the third, since the days of Charles II., has been named the Whigs’ Hole.

Of the three, the last designed is certainly the most celebrated. It has borne its appellation on account of some Covenanters, who, for a time, absconded here, under the rigorous persecution of the house of Stuart. And a fitting retreat it certainly was. The perforation extends inwards for more than thirty yards, and, at a little distance from its mouth, the aperture becomes contracted, so that it prevents any grown person from walking in upright, and could very easily be closed by a broad stone. This, by tradition in the neighbourhood, was frequently done in the period of the persecution. Indeed, two broad stones yet remain nigh the mouth of the cave, which are said to be the identical stones which the Covenanters had used to conceal their asylum.

It is confidently averred by old people of the neighbourhood, that the parties sent out by [Robert] Grierson of Lag, were repeatedly foiled in their attempts to assassinate the Covenanters who made this their hiding place.

At one time the soldiers, headed by Lag, had observed a woman on the summit of the rocks which overhang the cave, as if in the act of letting down some provisions to somebody beneath. They instantly fired at the female, who seemed to fall down as if dead. She did this, however, on purpose, to lure them to the spot where she fell; for she eluded the fire, and quickly was hid among very thick woods. The dragoons, on being disappointed at not finding the dead woman, as they supposed, scrambled over the rocks, or winded around the bottom in hopes of finding some fugitives below. When they reached the base of the rocks, however, they found no aperture seemingly large enough to admit the Whigs. They sought round a little farther, and found the Kaa’s Cave, into which they crept on hands and knees, but found no Covenanters.

Lag, however, was told that there were caves in the rocks sufficiently large to hold half-a-score of Whigs ; and he again ordered some of his dragoons to dismount and search more narrowly. They did so, and even, ‘tis said, knocked the muzzles of their muskets on the large, broad stone which actually was set up in the mouth of the cavern; the Covenanters from within actually heard them do so, and trembled while they heard it; but the dragoons at that time could effect no entrance. Indeed, the broad stone was applied so fittingly, that the soldiers but deemed it as a natural appendage; they, therefore, after venting a few curses both on the Covenanters and their own commander, generally turned round the sea-beaten rocks, and rejoined their comrades and their captain.

There can be little doubt but that the other principal cavern, still named the Cave of Barholm, might also prove occasionally the haunt of the Covenanters. It is even wider at the upper end than the one which is exclusively designated the Whigs’ Hole. From the ease and expedition, however, with which the inner aperture of the latter could be closed and concealed, it is most likely that it was most frequently occupied.

No places, in fact, could be better adapted for the purposes of hiding, than either of the two principal coves or caves of Barholm. The tide daily dashing at the very mouths of their entrances,—the stupendous natural masonry of rock which overhung them,—and that rock fringed with underwood almost to its base; add to this, the thick natural forest, which rose like an amphitheatre, from the very summits of the perpendicular rocks, almost to the top of the hill of Barholm : all these circumstances considered, it was quite eligible for the hunted Presbyterians to make such a place their dernier resort.

[…] All this seems to be still more confirmed by an anecdote, beautifully recorded in the Life of Dr. Thomas Brown, by the Rev. Dr. Welsh, late of Crossmichael. Dr. Brown’s biographer, in giving some prefatory account of the ancestors of his master and friend, relates, that the grandfather of the Professor was wont to send victuals to some of the persecuted, in the time of Charles II., and adds, “The cave is still shown where such people were thus supplied.” Now, can this cave be possibly any other than that one, which, even in 1825, retains the appellation of the Whigs’ Hole ?

Some intelligent people in the vicinity yet record an anecdote of an old woman, who dwelt in a house named the “Warl’s End,” who, at different times, lowered down provisions for the persecuted absconders. Whether this woman was employed by Mr. Brown, the then incumbent of Kirkmabreck; or if she did so, from the compassion of her own pitying heart, still it establishes the fact, that there were people beneath, who, in some concealment, needed the supply thus benevolently afforded.

And, in 1825, the aspect and entrance of these caverns are both venerable and inviting. ‘Over the mouth of the Whigs’ Hole, or Covenanters’ Cave, as it ought more expressively to be called, there hangs a respectful profusion of the broadest woodbine leaves that can any where be met with. One would almost say, that Providence hath permitted it, as a beautiful and salutary memento, as a picturesque reminiscence of those who were once the inmates of the cavern, and whose memories should bear the bays of everlasting remembrance.’ (Barbour, Unique Traditions of Scotland, 73-9.)


Barholm Castle © John Brennan and licensed for reuse.

According to the mid nineteenth-century OS name book, the Whig’s Hole was:

‘A cave in the Heughs of Barholme, the entrance of which is about 3 feet above the high water mark, it extends for about 2 chains with a depression of about 1 foot in 5 & from 3 to 6 feet in breadth and from 2 1/2 to 8 feet in height. This cave is supposed to have been a place of refuge by the Covenanters in the time of the religious struggle between the Presbyterians & Episcopacy. 25 chains S of Kirkdale Bridge.’

Later, Morton revisited Barbour’s account:

‘The caves or coves of Barholm often afforded a safe retreat to the persecuted Covenanters. Barbour speaks of three of these caves in his Unique Traditions— the Cove of Barholm, the Caa’s Cave, and the Whig’s Hole. They are in the rocks on the shore opposite Garlieston, in a line with Barholm Castle. The “Whig’s Hole extended inwards for some thirty yards and at a little distance from the mouth it became contracted and at this point could easily be closed by a stone. This, indeed, was frequently done when the persecutors sent out by Lagg were searching in the vicinity. Traditions are current in the neighbourhood of a woman who lived in a cottage at the Warld’s End watching for favourable opportunities to lower provisions to the Covenanters hiding in the caves. In Welsh’s Life of Dr. Brown, it is said that his grandfather, the minister of Kirkmabreck, was wont to send food to some of the persecuted, and that “the cave is still shown where such people were thus supplied.”’ (Morton, Galloway and the Covenanters, 460.)

For other Covenanters in Kirkmabreck parish, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Whig’s Hole

~ by drmarkjardine on November 13, 2014.

31 Responses to “Secrets of Whigs’ Hole near Barholm, Galloway”

  1. […] The Whig’s Hole at Barholm, south of Creetown. Is this a photograph of the Whig’s Hole at […]

  2. I think I have found Whigs’ Hole a little further east than the one shown on the photo. Do you want photos?

  3. not sure how to post images but have a look at;
    There is also a Covenanters cave nr Monreith known as Garreries Cave shown on 1st ed OS see here;


  4. […] am very grateful to Nicholas Coombey for drawing my attention to the existence of this cave in the OS name books. Without his help, I would never have spotted it. Check out the Solway Coastwise Facebook page for […]

  5. the cave photographed is near Whigs Hole on 1st ed OS. There are many small caves but the one photographed fitted the description best as it narrows down to a crawl hole and them opens a bit and continues for some way. Looking at maps I would say it is at NX5190 5260 with Meg Merrilees Cave at NX5182 5269

    I will put a couple more photos of Whigs Hole on the coastwise facebook

    looks like the the cave at Monreith has been located – I will go on a good low tide

  6. Another cave that may be worth investigating is Begg’s Hole located north of Garlieston – still on maps today here is scotlands places description;

    will try and get out there sometime soon

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