Sawney Bean

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Right is a view of the car park at Bennane Head 8 miles south of Girvan, two miles north of Ballantrae.

This is the area where the tale of Sawney Bean the cannibal evolved. About 150 feet below the car park is a cave that is thought to run almost one mile into the hillside. Sawney Bean was born near Edinburgh, the son of a hedger and ditcher.

Map.

Bennane Head car park
Sawney Bean cave

The young Sawney and his girlfriend set up home in this cave after running off from Edinburgh in search of an easier life. They soon began robbing passers by to fund their new life of leisure. The easiest way to rob someone traveling along the trail that ran above the cave was to throw them over the cliffs. This soon led to Sawney and his wife realizing the mangled bodies were a good source of food. Left, this seems to be the best way down to the cave.


Right is a look over the edge to see just how far down it really is. Sawney and his wife prospered in this new life killing hundreds of passers by over the following two decades. Their family, through incest, grew to 8 sons, 6 daughters, 18 grandsons and 14 granddaughters. The ever-increasing amount of people disappearing around the area led to many a search but nothing could ever be found.

Sawney Been cave

Sawney Bean cave

It is not surprising as the photo left shows the entrance to the cave is a narrow slit in the rock face. The cave is even harder to locate during a high tide as the sea cuts off any access from the beach. The Bean’s were finally captured after botching a robbery. They attacked a husband and wife traveling along the coast on horseback, cutting the woman's throat. Her husband lived to tell the tale as he managed to fight off the hoard of cannibals.


The story of his escape soon led to an army being sent to carry out another search of the coastline. After bloodhounds used in that search found the cave, a gruesome sight met the soldiers that entered. Limbs were hanging on hooks being dried whilst other body parts were being pickled. The Bean family were soon rounded up and taken to Edinburgh where they were thrown in the Tolbooth.

Sawney Bean cave

Sawney Bean cave

With their crimes being so heinous and the evidence overwhelming, they were refused the right of a trial. The following morning at Leith, the men were executed by having their limbs cut off so they would bleed to death. The women were supposedly treated with a little more respect as they were burned to death. Left is a close-up of the cave entrance showing just how well hidden it really is.


It is unclear if the tale of Sawney Bean is truth or fiction. There is no written evidence to support his family’s capture or executions. Facts that give the tale credibility ‘are’ cannibals did exist in Scotland around that time; also, one of the caves between Girvan and Ballantrae was still being inhabited until the 1970s. The last resident ‘Snib Scott’ a vagrant with a long grey beard, was often referred to as Sawney Bean. The truth will only be known after an extensive excavation of the cave is made. Is there anyone out there interested? Before visiting the cave, you should check times of the tide and make sure your phone is fully charged. Also, anyone not 100% fit should think twice before attempting the steep decent and climb back up.

For a video tour of the cave and for discusions on the facts, visit YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2LlmED9feQ&feature=related