giant’s cave

Place-name:Giant’s Cave
Suggested Meaning:Giant’s Cave
Blaeu Coila (1654):No Entry
OS Name Books (1855-57):Giant’s Cave (transcribed as Grant’s Cave)
Location:Ordnance Survey (1894)

Giant’s Cave

Giant’s Cave, Blackcraig Hill (Photo Robert Guthrie)

The Giant’s Cave can be seen on the west facing slope of Blackcraig hill, a cave between the Black Clints to the north and the Merry Clints to the south.

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Giant’s Cave reads –

A large perpendicular rock on the west side of Black Craig- at the base of which there is a cave, the face or entrance to which is closed up with stones.

Map 1 : Giant’s Cave | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Giant of Blackcraig

Helen J. Steven in “The Cumnocks Old and New” (1899) [1] recounts a number of local superstitions that have been passed down through the generations from a time unknown including those of the giant at Blackcraig, which she introduces as follows –

In the rugged side of the great hill of Blackcraig, there is a cave, dark and lonesome. No man trod its floor or tried to reach its further end, for in its dark recesses lived a giant. The shepherds and the farming folk spoke comfortably to each other, for he was but a mortal man, said they, like the mad Sir Ulrecht.

The Blackcraig Giant terrified the farming folk and their livestock.

Killing and sucking the blood of sheep

In the winter nights by the glowing fire, when the stormy winds shrieked and howled outside, they whispered fearsome tales of his wonderful powers; for sheep were hurled over rocks to meet their deaths, and many were laid on their backs on the moorland, and who but the giant of Blackcraig had killed them and sucked their blood, and their carcases he would come in the moonlight and steal away.

Helen J. Steven

Throwing a raging bull over his shoulder

And once a bull, with lowered head, and breathing deadly rage from his crimson nostrils charged upon the giant, but he caught the angry brute and tossed him over his shoulder.

Helen J. Steven

Shepherds trembled on seeing shapeless darkness

But in their heart of hearts the shepherds knew he was a spirit. although he oft-times clothed himself in the garment of of humanity, and they trembled as they saw a shapeless darkness in the evening flitting over the hillside, or a shadow in the noontide on hill or pastureland. One could tell a tale of a day when mists came up from the lowlands clinging to the rugged hills and clouds hung low in the sky; but the lofty Blackcraig towered high over the clouds and the densest fogs; and the shepherd climbed out of the greyness and the damp, cold clamminess to find his sheep; and above it all, on the hill-top, the air was pure and clear. And he chanced to look behind, and lo, in the clouds beneath him he saw the shadow of a form – a form so vast, so gigantic that he was like to swoon for fear. But being a man of pure and godly mind he plucked up heart of grace and turned him round to confront the dreaded giant. But no giant could he see; but beneath him still there lay that awesome, fearsome shape. In his loneliness he stretched his hands in supplication, and the ghost-like form, as if in mockery, lifted up unholy hands in prayer. The shepherd saw no more, for he fell upon his face in fear and trembling, and when he came to himself the sun was shining, and the clouds in fleecy whiteness chased each other down the mountain.

Helen J. Steven

The disappearance of the ‘bouncing fiddler’

This tale relates to the mysterious disappearance of the ‘bouncing fiddler‘ who was held in high esteem throughout the country – “the fiddler who played so merrily at kirns and rockings and all the shepherd’s weddings in the parish“. “Kirns” were harvest celebrations and “The Rockin” was a rural tea-party – “so called because to such scenes girls, in former times, were accustomed to bring rocks or distaffs for the purpose of spinning – thus uniting pleasure and industry” [2].

A number of reasons for the fiddler’s disappearance were considered and discounted, including the possibility he had fallen under the spell of an old witch in Glen Afton [See Witch Knowe ], before the Blackcraig Giant was found to be the guilty party.

One day a shepherd was hard at work among his sheep on the hillside, and evening fell as he stepped homeward to his wife. As he passed near by he saw the giant sit at the mouth of his cave, like the Giant Despair in his castle, and he bit his nails and looked in gloom at the darkening landscape. And over his shoulder with a white, pinched face, peeped the fiddler, playing a sad, sad tune, and all of his many tunes there was none before so sad as this. It seemed the despairing cry of a lost and sinful soul; and of all of the giant’s ploy this was the most direful. At Dunside where the fiddler played so long and cheerily and kept the heels of the country lads stamping upon the earthen floor and the hearts of the lasses beating time to the rythm of their lovers’ feet – at Dunside, where the mirth was fastest and the most furious of all the gatherings of the year, they had grudged the fiddler his penny fee, his lawful wages for work well done, and had turned him out in the cold and rain, and the bouncing fiddler had said the farmer would repent it. At nights when darkness fell on the hillside and the air was keen and chilly, or when the mist rose from the valley and fell clammy on roof or barn, or coat of beast, or clothing of man, the old farmer looked out many a time, but there was never a light from the giant’s cave, but all was black and cold and cheerless as a cold pit. Then when the farmer went to the fire-end and sat him down, like a patriach, among his children and servants, he would start up in deadly fear, for under his hearthstone he heard the bouncing fiddler playing. And why did he play in the farmer’s home, and why should he haunt it? No bones of his lay there, and from Blackcraig was a long and weary way. But wise men wagged their heads and said that it was in the farmer’s heart the fiddler played the tune. And the giant smiled grimly as he sat at the mouth of the cave and bit his finger nails with his yellow teeth.

The fiddler loon was never seen again from the night he played at the Dunside rockin’. All through Dunside’s days he played his eerie tunes under the kitchen’s hearth. But as the farmer’s physical health decayed his spirit grew strong and repentant of all evil deeds; the music changed then from haunting chant to quiet solemnity, and his family heard it too in the long winter nights as the women span by the fire. But no one was afraid, for it was no longer spiteful and shrill, but soft and sweet, and like young children calling. And as Dunside passed away the music came in fitful, long drawn sighs, and then it stopped for ever.

Helen J. Steven

Dunside farm sits on the New Cumnock side of Kello Water about 2 miles west of the Giant’s Cave. The properties of Bank, Blackcraig and Dunside were for long periods of time were held as a parcel of lands by the same proprietor.

Map 2 : Giant’s Cave and Dunside| Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The New Cumnock School Fellows Annual Magazine (1898) [3] collated a long list of local traditions including the following associated with the Blackcraig Giant –

“What about the giant that lived in the cave at Blackcraig?

Did he catch the Dalhanna bull by the tail and throw him over his shoulder and walk off?

Was it true that the bouncing fiddler was made his prisoner and was last heard fiddling under Dunside hearth-stane?

Were they his double teeth Wylie got in the graveyard at the head of Bob Crawford’s yaird? Dr Riddel at Ayr has samples.”

New Cumnock School Fellows Annual Magazine 1898

Here the raging bull is identified as belonging to Dalhanna farm, about 2 miles south of the Giant’s Cave. The School Fellows also ask the question about the giant’s “double teeth” found in the graveyard, that is the Auld Kirkyard. Bob Crawford, was a mason to trade and his yard was located in the Kirk Port while Wylie perhaps was the gravedigger. Dr. Riddel at Ayr was probably New Cumnock born John Riddle.

Although McCool’s Craig on the banks of the Carcow Burn about 3 miles to the north west is possibly a reference to the legendary Irish giant Finn McCool there is no suggestion he had a cave at Blackcraig.


[1] Helen J. Steven “The Cumnocks Old and New” (1899)
[2] New Cumnock School Fellows Annual Magazine (1898)
[3] The Ayrshire Wreath, MDCCCXLV (1844)
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Map 1 | Ordnance Survey (1894) |Giant’s Cave
Map 2 | Ordnance Survey (1895) |Dunside
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49| Giant’s Cave
(N.B. Giant’s Cave has been transcribed as Grant’s Cave; so search for Grant’s Cave)