The cave is down a steep and rocky climb on the east side of the island, which had a pre clearance population of close to 200, and is also known by its Gaelic name of “Uamh na gaisgeach”, translated as the “cave of the famous warrior.” It was used for Sunday services right up until 1912, when a new church was built on the island and then sporadically up until the 1970s. The original stone pews are still intact (comfort not being a priority back in the day) as is the alter, and the natural font that is perpetually replenished from water dripping through the rocky roof above. If you are feeling adventurous, then you can still get married here. It is a sad reminder of the death of rural communities and the importance of religion to them, but somehow the fact that the cave is still intact when churches have long since fallen into ruin, mean that it still remains like a weirdly intact postcard from a bygone era. Dwellers of the Tinkers Cave Dr Arthur Mitchell meets the cave dwellers For the poorest sections of society, living in caves was a necessary hardship. Right into the 20th century, society’s underclass had little choice when it came to securing shelter.
Cave dwelling was officially prohibited in 1915 by an act of parliament, with the intention of keeping the coastline free from fires during the war, but a 1917 government census shows 55 people as still listed as officially living in caves. One of the most famous of these, the tinkers cave on the south side of Wick Bay, can still be visited today. The name originates from the itinerant tinsmiths who would reside there for brief spells during the summer, but laterally people were living there all year round. Dr Arthur Mitchell, an eminent 19th century physician described a visit where he encountered no less than 24 people crammed into the single chamber, his photographs of a family posing at the cave mouth are strangely endearing. Inner city slums at the time were squalid places to live but no comparison to the hardships of having to winter in a cave, a visit is a way to remember just how short a time ago it was that this desperate poverty was commonplace.