The Gentleman’s Cave, Westray

In the aftermath of Culloden, Orkney experienced a wave of plunder, burnings and retribution in 1746 for those who had supported the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The Gentlemen’s Cave In this remote cave near Noup Head, William Balfour of Trenabie (in the northeast corner of Westray), and 11 companions who had supported the Jacobites in the ’45, hid for an entire winter. © Copyright Marc Calhoun

Orkney was known for its Jacobite sympathies and many had to go into hiding in an attempt to escape the Hanoverian forces.

James Fea roamed around in disguise in Caithness whilst his properties were looted and burned: Janet Fea and the Burning of Sound

Some of the prominent Jacobites in Orkney took to a cave, located in cliffs in Westray which came to be known as ‘The Gentleman’s Cave’.

Located on the coast edge.

This cave is reached by descending a long sloping ledge to the south side of Noup Head. It is said to have been used as a refuge by Jacobite lairds from the North Isles in 1746. (See also HY54SW10). This site was not inspected.

Orkney Coastal Zone Assessment 1998.


The number of gentlemen who took refuge in the cave is said to be upwards of 5 perhaps 12 they included: John Traill of Elsness, Traill of Westness, Stewart of Brugh, William Balfour of Trenabie and Coventry of Newark.

They were pursued by marines under the leadership of Captain Moodie of Melsetter whose house in Hoy had previously been attacked by Jacobite forces. There were old scores to settle and money to be made from plunder.

There was wholescale burning down of properties owned by Jacobite lairds.

One such account of the destruction and looting of John Traill’s House, Elseness in Sanday says of Captain Moodie and the marines:

“He went to the house of Elseness…and without waiting for the keys; which were offered to be brought to him, broke open every door in the house, and he, with all his marines, having rummaged it all over, and carried away what they had mind on, left it open and exposed to everybody, the servants having deserted it for fear; and all this happened before the said summons was published in the island.”

For ordinary islanders, they tried to hide or took to boats. One tenant was found and ‘questioned’ as to the whereabouts of Traill. The man of course did not know and this enraged Moodie. After the wave of destruction and pillaging he took off to Kirkwall with his plunder and prisoners.

The gentlemen hiding in the cave in nearby Westray – The Gentleman’s Ha’ – were said to be aided by an old islander who brought them food. They took shelter there for the entire winter.

Fiona Grahame

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