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King's Cave, Isle of Arran

King's Cave on the Isle of Arran is the legendary place where Robert the Bruce fled, after murdering his rival John Comyn at the alter of Greyfriars Abbey. This less than heroic action divided Scots, and for a while Robert lost support amongst Scottish nobles and had to go into hiding. King's Cave was thought to have been his hiding place, or one of them. It is here that he was supposed to have been inspired by the tenacity of a spider spinning its web. This is one of those historical tales which seem right, and which people want to believe. In fact the spider story was made up by Walter Scott. History is much messier than it ought to be. It is often created in retrospect to make a story more suited to the present. Sometimes in supporting a nationalistic tradition, Robert is portrayed as hiding from the English rather than from his Scottish rivals.

Merlin's Cave, Tintagel


Whether King's Cave was Robert's refuge or not, a place like this serves less as a historical location and more as a symbolic national talisman. It is rather like Merlin's Cave at Tintagel in Cornwall. Any actual king is always going to let you down in some way, whether it's by unfortunately murdering people in churches, or bugging the Watergate building, or some other lapse. But a mythic king can be as heroic as he is needed to be. King's Cave is an attempt to move a very human king into a mythic realm. This sort of process has been going on for most of human history. Some writers think that religion arose during the Ice Age when tightly knit social groups were required to cope with the harsh conditions of life at that time. Any human leader was going to be fallible, and their competence could be challenged. Divine authority on the other hand had to be accepted on faith, and could never be checked in any practical way. A leader with divine authority behind him was always going to be in a stronger position. Sometimes past leaders are given a divine status by imaginative historians, to strengthen the present status quo. Even if Robert the Bruce never went near King's Cave, and even if the spider story was made up by Walter Scott, the cave is still interesting. King's Cave illustrates an ancient human attitude to authority that goes back much further than the lifetime of Robert the Bruce in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.


Directions: King's Cave is off the A841 near Blackwaterfoot on the Isle of Arran. Access to the cave itself is via a coastal path. Admission is free. Click here for an interactive map centred on Blackwaterfoot.

Access: Access is via a coastal path, which would prove difficult for a disabled visitor.


telephone: 0845 2255121




©2006 InfoBritain (updated 02/10)