Scottish cave ‘housed a cannibal family of more than 40’

A coastal cave in South Ayrshire has a gruesome history that would send shivers down anyone’s spine.

The cave, located between Girvan and Ballantrae, is said to have been the home of Alexander “Sawney” Bean. Legend tells that Bean was the leader of a 40-plus-member clan in the 16th century who murdered and cannibalised more than 1,000 victims over a period of 25 years.

Bean reportedly moved into the cave with a woman named Black Agnes Douglas after leaving his childhood home of East Lothian. Having no legitimate source of income, the two would ambush travellers on the nearby highway or lure them back to the cave, where they would be robbed and killed.

The two soon realised that they needed to dispose of the bodies in order to avoid being caught. It was at this point that they started eating the flesh of their victims, pickling the leftovers and discarding remains that would occasionally wash up on nearby beaches.

The cave was 180 metres deep and the entrance was blocked by water at high tide – features which helped Bean and Douglas avoid detection for around 25 years.

During this time, the pair birthed eight sons and six daughters, who then produced 14 granddaughters and 18 grandsons through incest.

Over the years, the clan are said to have successfully carried out ambushes at night to rob and murder individuals or small groups, before their corpses were brought back to the cave to be dismembered and eaten. Local villagers believed it was wild animals that were carrying out the attacks.

However, one robbery did not go to plan, and led to the death of the entire clan. They ambushed a husband and wife who were travelling along the coast on horseback, but the former was able to defend himself and he managed to escape.

The husband informed the local magistrate about his gruesome experience, after which King James IV organised a search party consisting of 400 men and several bloodhounds. They soon found the cave, with the clan huddled inside surrounded by dismembered corpses.

The clan was then captured and taken in chains to the Tolbooth Jail in Edinburgh. Soon after, they were executed without trial as they were not deemed of deserving one for their heinous crimes.

Whether or not this legend is true, it is likely to put many people off ever visiting ‘Sawney Bean’s Cave’. Those interested in seeking it out, however, should be warned that it is hard to reach and can only be accessed via a steep decent.

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