The forgotten cave-dwellers of Scotland’s far North

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According to Scotsman

Cave dwelling has stone age connotations for most people today , but in Scotland living in caves only ceased 100 years ago when it was outlawed in 1915. Alison Campsie looks back at the mysterious people who lived in Wick’s Tinker’s Cave at the end of the the 19th Century.

They were found resting in a cave, 24 men women and children, some naked and scarred, and all making the most of the dying embers of the fire.
These were the cave dwellers of Wick, documented by Dr Arthur Mitchell, a physician who studied mental illness and who led several commissions into “lunacy” in 19th Century Scotland.

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Credit: Scotsman

In August 1886, Dr Mitchell’s studies took him and a colleague to the “great cave” at the south side of Wick Bay at a time when caves were not uncommonly inhabited across the north and west of Scotland. The two reached the cave in falling light, around nine o’clock at night, and found the cave in a cliff with its mouth close to the sea, with high tides encroaching on the rugged habitation.

Dr Mitchell, in his account of the visit, said: “They received us civilly, perhaps with more than mere civility, after a judicious distribution of pence and tobacco. To our great relief, the dogs, which were numerous and vicious, seemed to understand that we were welcome.” The spot at Wick became known locally as Tinker’s Cave, due to the folk living there being involved in the tin trade.

Dr Mitchell found the cave dwellers lying on “straw, grass and bracken” spread over the rocks and shingle, with each having “one or two dirty, ragged blankets.” Two of the beds were next to a peat fire, with more further back in the shelter of the cave. His account added: “On the bed nearest the entrance lay a man and his wife, both absolutely naked, and two little children in the same state.

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