The Curse of Peden’s Willow: The Mystery of Peden’s Cave near Mauchline #History #Scotland
This is a puzzling Peden cave, as it does not appear on the old OS maps or their name books. It also does not, to my knowledge, appear in twentieth-century history books that deal with sites which tradition connects to the Covenanter, Alexander Peden. At first, it could be confused with Peden’s Cove near Failford in Tarbolton parish, which is in set in similar cliffs. However, every reference to the cave places it in Mauchline parish … Quite a mystery.
Peden’s Cave first appears in the New Statistical Account under Mauchline parish between 1834 and 1845:
‘The river Ayr runs through this parish, about a mile south of the town. In its course, it passes between steep rocks of red freestone, from forty to fifty feet high. How this passage was formed, whether by some convulsion of nature, or by the water gradually forming a channel for itself, cannot now be ascertained. The scenery is beautiful and romantic. On its banks there are various caves cut out of the solid rock, similar to those at Auchinleck, of which Dr Johnson has taken notice in his Tour to the Hebrides. One of them is known by the name of Peden’s Cave, where it is said Alexander Peden (whose name is so familiar to the inhabitants of the west of Scotland) often concealed himself during the unhappy time of the persecution. About half a mile above Barskimming, the seat of Lord Glenlee, the Ayr is joined by the waters of the Lugar. It afterwards runs a course of ten miles, and joins the Firth of Clyde at the town of Ayr.’ (NSA, V, 159-160. and here)
A few years later, in 1851, additional information appeared in Wylie’s Ayrshire Streams. It recorded traditions about Peden in cave and the curious curse of Peden’s Willow literally falling on those who felled it:
‘Here steep red sandstone rocks rise 40 or 50 ft., overhung by wood, and beautiful and romantic. Of several caves cut out of the rocks, one is known as Peden’s Cave. “In front of this recess, there lay in past days a pool of water, and the entrance was shaded by an umbrageous willow. By one of the branches of this tree, the pious Peden was enabled to swing himself into his hiding place. The willow was long preserved, but at length an edicts was issued for its removal. It is worthy of remark, that the seven men engaged in cutting it down, were all more or less injured by its fall. It is furthermore noted, that no shoot sprang from the root after the ruthless removal of the tree, such being quite unusual with the willow. Peden’s brother resided contiguous to this asylum, his house being onnly a short way from the present offices of Sorn Castle. Upon Peden’s retreat being discovered, his brother counselled him to remove to Auchinleck, where he might obtain more secure shelter from a friend. Feeling unwell, and apprehending immediate dissolution, Peden exclaimed, that ‘In forty-eight hours, he didna min; though they made a whistle o’ his banes.’ The prediction was fully verified; within the time specified, he had ceased to breathe.”’ (Wylie, Ayrshire Streams: Or, Scenes, characters and Traditions of the West Country (Kilmarnock, 1851), 71. Quoted in James Hooper Dawson’s, Abridged Statistical History of Scotland, (1857), 131n.)
In 1852, Paterson recorded the cave under Mauchline parish. His text was obviously based on the New Statistical Account:
‘The [River] Ayr bounds the parish for upwards of a mile. “In its course it passes between steep rocks of red sandstone, from forty to fifty feet high … on its banks there are several caves cut out of the solid rock, similar to those at Auchinleck, of which Dr Johnson has taken notice in his ‘Tour of the Hebrides.’ One of them is known by the name of Peden’s Cave, where it is said Alexander Peden, whose name is so familiar to the inhabitants of the west of Scotland, often concealed himself during the unhappy times of the Persecution.’ (Paterson, History of the County of Ayr, II, 1852, 324.)
In 1874, William Douglas Scott recorded where Peden’s Cave lay when describing the River Ayr:
‘About half a mile below this junction [with the Lugar] is Barskimming, where the “hermit [River] Ayr” steals through tangled woods and between immense cliffs of red freestone: these are in many places perforated with deep caves which once afforded a shelter to Peden and other outlawed adherents of the covenant. The river thereafter takes a northward bend till it nearly touches the high road to Ayr, at a point now called Failford, about two and a half miles below Mauchline, and there, on its right bank, it receives the interesting water of Faile.’ (Scott, In Ayrshire, a descriptive picture of the County of Ayrr, with relative notes on interesting local subjects chiefly derived during a recent personal tour (1874), 8.)
All the sources located Peden’s Cave where the River Ayr flows between immense cliffs of red freestone ‘in many places perforated with deep caves’. Scott placed it before the Ayr ‘takes a northward bend’ that nearly touches the high road to Ayr and prior to the river reaching Failford. Everything points to a location near Barskimming and in Mauchline parish where there are caves and passages cut into the rock. The cave clearly lay on the north bank of the Ayr, as the opposite, southern bank lay in a different parish. That points to the red freestone cliffs either near Barskimming New Bridge or a little down stream by Netheraird Holm. At the latter there are man-made caves thought to have been created in the late eighteenth century.
One of them may be Peden’s Cave, or the story may relate to a different cave at Barskimming
If anyone has any information about Peden’s Cave near Barskimming, please get in touch.
There are several other Peden Caves in the area. See:
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