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Billy Marshall's Cave

Newton Stewart, Cairnsmore of Fleet, S of Louran Burn, N of Eastman's Cairn, Kirkcudbrightshire.

NGR:NX 49480 67980
WGS84:54.98360, -4.35376
Length:13 m
Vert. Range:2 m
Altitude:410 m
Geology:Cairnsmore of Fleet Pluton - Granite
Tags:Cave
Registry:main

A large boulder cave, known as Billy Marshall's Cave is situated at NX 494 679, approximately 900 metres north west of the summit (of Cairnsmore of Fleet). This cave is [perhaps] worth a visit, but difficult to find. Fortunately a rock above the cave has an iron bar protruding from it - thus helping to identify its location'.

The cave has a narrow entrance and you climb down into it. The passage turns to the right and goes in for about 10 m. Reputedly used for storing smuggled goods such as salt and rum brought ashore from Carsluith. [www.geocaching.com]

In Blackwood's Magazine we find the following amusing anecdote of Billy Marshall and this cave, stated to have been derived from "Black Matthew Marshall," grandson of the said chieftain: -

"Marshall's gang had long held possession of a large cave or cavern in the high grounds of Cairnsmore, in Galloway, where they usually deposited their plunder and sometimes resided secure from the officers of the law, as no one durst venture to molest the tribe in that retired subterraneous situation. It happened that two Highland pipers, strangers to the country, were travelling that way, and falling in by chance with this cave, they entered it to shelter themselves from the weather, and resolved to rest there during the night. They found pretty good quarters, but observed some very suspicious furniture in the cave, which indicated the profession and character of its absent inhabitants. They had not remained long till they were alarmed by the voices of a numerous band advancing to its entrance. The pipers expected nothing but death from the ruthless gipsies. One of them, however, being a man of some presence of mind, called to his neighbour instantly to fill his bags (doing the same himself), and to strike up a pibroch with all his might and main. Both pipes accordingly at once commenced a most tremendous onset, the cave with all its echoes pealing back the 'Pibroch of Donuil Dhu' or such like. At this very unexpected and terrific reception - the yelling of the bagpipes, issuing from the bowels of the earth, just at the moment the gipsies entered the cave - Billy Marshall, with all his band, precipitately fled in the greatest consternation, and from that night never again would go near their favourite haunt, believing that the blast they had heard proceeded from the devil or some of his agents. The pipers next morning prosecuted their journey in safety, carrying with them the spolia opima of the redoubted Billy and the clan Marshall."

This anecdote might be dismissed as a folk tale (possibly told by a gypsy storyteller long after the event) but some confirmation comes from 'The Life of James Allan', celebrated Northumberland piper (1818) which mentions a similar cave. [A. McCormick]

Andrew McCormick was skeptical about the presence of a large cave on Cairnsmore but mentions three small caves, one on Red Strand to the north-east, McClave's Pantry to the south-east and a cave to the left of the Mill Burn as you ascend which could be the cave now called Billy Marshall's Cave.

Upon the eastern face of Cairnsmore, and to the left of the Mill Burn as you ascend, there is a substantially built cave. It is situated about 200 yards lower down the mountain than the 'Three Cairns"-which, by the way, now number "four" - and a little further to the left of the cairns as you ascend. It will be seen from the photograph (produced as an illustration) of this cave that it has been carefully constructed, and a large flat stone lying at the entrance exactly tits as a door to obscure the opening, and when thus closed it is most difficult, even for those who have visited it before, to find it. A large flat boulder forms the roof, and from its sloping position it would rather seem as if the roof had fallen in, thus making the cave smaller than it had originally been, but even now there is room for three ordinary folks, or four Marshalls, as, according to a story which will be related later on, they have the knack of huddling together as closely as herrings in a barrel.

Alternate Names: None recorded.

Notes: Billy Marshall (1672-1792) born in Ayrshire, said to be of Romany stock described as King of the Gypsies in southeast Scotland for most of 1700s. Career included time as a boxer, and in the services. Stories about him are that he deserted from Army seven times and Navy three times, married 17 times and had huge crowd of illegitimate children (four of whom he is said to have fathered after his 100th birthday). Also said to be involved in murder and robbery, running gang of gypsy tinkers in Galloway. So-called 'King of the Randies', organising country people who lost land when landowners built stone dykes and walls - his men went round knocking them down. Died age 120 buried in churchyard of St Cuthbert's in Kirkcudbright.

Hydrographic Feeds: None

Hydrographic Resurgences: None

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This entry was last updated: 2022-02-28 18:52:26

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