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Caves of Caiplie: Hidden and enchanting, this is Fife’s Grand Canyon

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The Caves of Caiplie are a fascinating and enchanting sight along the Fife Coastal Path.

Visitors say this system of caves, also known as Caiplie Coves or The Coves, is one of the kingdom’s hidden gems.

“I compare it to the Grand Canyon,” says Anastasia Anisimova, who works nearby.

Caiplie Caves (supplied by Carl Spowart).

Located along the 10-mile stretch of the East Neuk between Anstruther and Crail, these three caves were created naturally due to waves eroding the sandstone.

The largest is the Chapel Cave, approximately 10m deep and 5m high, with a broad entrance some 4m wide.

Inside Chapel Cave.

The caves have been linked with the Early Christian saints of Scotland since Andrew of Wyntoun referred in 1426 to their use by St Adrian (Ethernan), who is also associated with the nearby Isle of May which can be seen in the sea.

Some of the many incised and pecked crosses are thought to be Early Christian in date, while others are likely to be medieval and reflect the importance of the caves as a place of pilgrimage and cult site through the centuries.

In Chapel Cave there are a number of incised crosses, with holes believed to have been used for passing ropes through. Excavations in the 19th century recovered human remains beneath the floor.

Hermit’s Well, the easternmost of the caves, is so named because for several months just prior to World War II it was used by a hermit as his dwelling.

The fixing points for his door and window can still be seen embedded in the natural sandstone walls.

These days, many who visit this site try to work out what it reminds them of.

Jane Vizard sees Mount Rushmore, Chris Vincent thinks of northern Africa, Rachel Holmes pictures a Disney production, while Edmund Cooper, 7, “imagined there was a viking behind me”.

The Caves of Caiplie is an intriguing natural landmark that inspires people to think imaginatively.

This feature looks at why people love visiting here.

‘The views are stunning’

Charisse Basquin continues to be impressed by the coves 17 years on from moving to Crail.

Charisse Basquin.

“The first time I came upon this it was ‘wow, look at this, it’s amazing’, says Charisse, 61, who is originally from Fairbanks in the heart of Alaska.

“It’s a beautiful thing. The views are stunning and the sandstone is absolutely stunning.

“It touches my memories of the Zion National Park and Grand Canyon, both in the US.

“This is a great place for an artist to find colours.

“There is also no road here, which is great.”

‘We have the caves to shelter in’

A pair of seasonal workers from Russia were so taken by the Caves of Caiplie that they made their own video about it.

Alexander Kandakov and Anastasia Anisimova.

Anastasia Anisimova, 24, and Alexander Kandakov, 31, have fallen in love with the area after starting their fruit-picking work at nearby Barnsmuir Farm in the spring.

Their video, below, pays tribute to the coves.

“We moved here and realised what a unique place we are living in,” says Anastasia. “It’s really beautiful – like a God’s creation.

“Whenever you come to this place your mind is so peaceful and calm. I love the atmosphere.

“We can come down here at any time and know that if it rains or is windy we have the caves to shelter in.

“I compare it to the Grand Canyon because it looks similar. There aren’t many places you see something like this.”

“I have been to these caves several times and I can’t describe this place with any magic words, but I like that I can touch the history,” says Alexander.

‘I don’t get bored by it’

Lifelong Crail resident Carl Spowart recommends a trip to the Caves of Caiplie when talking to visitors.

The local mechanic, 63, says coastal walks have helped him lose two-and-a-half stone since the lockdown of March 2020.

Carl Spowart.

“I go to the caves twice a day on my walks – once in the morning and again in the evening,” he says.

“It’s a walk you must do. I recently took a photo and put in on my Facebook profile and someone commented that it looked like Australia.

“I don’t get bored by it.”

‘Odd place to have this’

One of the highlights of the Vincent family’s Fife holiday was a trip to the Caves of Caiplie.

Kent residents Chris, 43, Mindher, 42, and Keira, 9, explored the coves on a walk between Anstruther and their base in Crail.

Chris and Mindher Vincent with daughter Keira.

“They are amazing,” says Chris. “It’s a really unusual feature and almost as though it is in the wrong place.

“It looks as though the coves could be in northern Africa, being light and sandy.”

“They look the type of caves where you could smuggle and hide banned goods,” says Mindher.

“There are no other cliffs so it is an odd place to have this.”

‘It reminds me of Mount Rushmore’

Former St Andrews resident Jane Vizard visited the caves as she was “intrigued” by them.

Jane, 65, now lives in Nottinghamshire but took in the coastal walk while on a long weekend in her hometown.

Jane Vizard.

“There’s not much information out there about this which adds to its intrigue and made me want to find out more about it,” she says.

“It’s an interesting geological and historical feature that you can stop and admire.

“The colours are vivid. It reminds me of Mount Rushmore.”

‘It’s spectacularly beautiful’

Far from stumbling upon the Caves of Caiplie as she headed along the coast, Carol Heath knew it was coming.

Carol, 72, an amateur geologist, had done her research before going on a day trip from Edinburgh with Peter Fantes, 73.

Carol Heath and Peter Fantes.

“The rocks are amazing,” she says. “There’s supposed to be Christian signs on them but we couldn’t find anything.

“To look like this it must have been a desert once upon a time. It’s spectacularly beautiful and quite unusual.

“It’s a massive lump that has been weathered.”

Rocks ‘modelled by Disney’

A pair of former St Andrews University students passed the coves as they took a trip down memory land this summer.

Cambridge residents Rachel Holmes, 36, and Cecilia Vinesse, 34, were back in Fife for a nostalgic holiday.

Cecilia Vinesse and Rachel Holmes.

“The rocks look as if they have been modelled by Disney,” says Rachel. “From one particular angle the shape looks like a fish.

“It doesn’t look like the other rocks – it looks out of place.”

“It looks very much like the west coast of the US,” says Cecilia. “It reminds me of Arizona and New Mexico.

‘I imagined there was a viking behind me’

Young Edmund Cooper believes he may just have uncovered a secret entrance on his delve inside the coves.

The seven year old took his mind and body on a tour while on holiday with parents Adam Cooper, 51, and Kimberley Cooper, 44.

Adam and Kimberley Cooper with son Edmund.

“It’s really good because there’s an extra cave that leads to another one,” he says. “I found a secret way in and it was good to explore.

“I went in and imagined there was a viking behind me. Then they made the top of the wall come down and got us squashed!”

“When I read that there were some caves I thought there would just be some holes but it’s impressive,” says Kimberley, who lives in Rutland.

“It looks like Petra in Jordan with all the red sandstone. It’s not what you expect.”


Glaswegians Barbara Lawrie and Susan Williamson thought Caiplie Caves reminded them of the caves of Arran.<br />“It’s like it has been plonked here; how did it get here?” asks Susan.

‘It seems like a smugglers’ cave’

Keen photographer Martin Ward couldn’t believe his luck when he spotted Caiplie Caves on his coastal walk.

Alva resident Martin, 56, was having a stroll with his sister Chris.

Martin Ward.

“It has interesting shapes and colours,” he says. “This is the first time I have walked this part of the coastline and this caught my eye.

“The drama of it appeals to me.”

“It seems like a smugglers’ cave,” says Chris. “I can imagine that they tied the booty in there and came to collect it when no one remembered it was there.”