SAVE OUR SHORE: Hands off Havoc Hole and the shoreline meadow

STOP PRESS: Friends of Havoc Meadows

Great news on campaign to save Brucehill cliff, cave and trees. Objections are coming in fast including Silverton and Overtoun Community Council and Lennox Heritage Society. WE NEED AS MANY WD RESIDENTS AS POSSIBLE (16 and over) to place an objection by the 21st. We can win this! Place your objection now

The Clerkhill convent chapel perched above the red sandstone cliffs and (above) Havoc Meadow. Pictures by Robert Beacon and Bill Heaney

NOTEBOOK by Bill Heaney

The Lennox Heritage Society has fired a warning shot across the bows of West Dunbartonshire Council’s SNP administration over an application for planning permission for as new housing development on the former Clerkhill Convent site in Dumbarton’s West End.

Of particular concern to the heritage group are implications for the Convent of Notre Dame Chapel and Havoc Hole / Wallace’s Cave, together with the cliff face which overlooks the Coos’ Park, which was a well-known football pitch for boys from Brucehill, and is part of the recently named Havoc Meadow.

The Lennox Heritage Society sees its role as the promotion and protection of the history and heritage in all its facets within a wide sector of West Dunbartonshire. Its membership is drawn from an area stretching from Loch Lomond to Bowling.

Their chairman, Jeremy Watson, who lives in Renton, has visited the site at Clerkhill and has lodged the objection mainly with reference to the destruction of the cliff, the cave, the chapel, “magnificent” trees, the landscape and other site works being proposed by the builders.

 Mr Watson has told the council that other than Craigend House, which is where pupils at the now demolished Notre Dame High School pupils used to attend domestic science classes, and the Carmelite Monastery, which moved there in recent times from Kirktonhill, this is all that remains of the proposed development site.

The objection states: “So far as the cliff-top chapel is concerned, the Society wishes to see this building retained and sees no justification within this application for its removal, but would not object if it were to be lost.

“If this were the case … every effort needs to be made to recover the surviving special features. These could be incorporated into the new development so retaining historic reference.”

It adds: “Havoc Hole and the sea cliff need to be seen together in context. While the sea cliff extends westwards to the edge of Cardross, it varies greatly in consistency and form. This    section from the bottom of Havoc Road through to near Kirktonhill continues roughly in the same form and height. Of this, the section within which is the historic cave is the most impressive and picturesque.

“It may not be very high, but defines the edge between the hill   and the raised beach floodplain. The former being residential. The latter being recreational   and wild area.

“The cave may be little more than a fissure, but it has great local significance.”

Friends of Havoc Meadow who keep the shoreline fields litter free and people friendly.

Mr Watson has pleaded that the Havoc Hole and the sea cliff are of geological interest and that “we are very fortunate to have this within a natural area that we use for recreation right here within Dumbarton.

“Havoc Hole is the most significant feature being a remnant of a fossil sea cave which can be found in the raised beach cliff. 

“The red sandstone of which the cliffs are made dates from the Upper Red Sandstone of the Devonian Period, approximately 375 – 360 million years ago, and would have been deposited at a time when the area we know as the British Isles was part of a large continent.

“This should not be seen simply as of specialist interest, but something of intrinsic value to the community in terms of education at different levels and should be considered integral to the future of Havoc Meadow.

“The sandstone cliffs were a shore line at the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago. The sea would have worn away at the sandstone and the pressure of water would have resulted in cracks appearing in the rocks. These cracks eventually widened into caves”. 


The Heritage Society states that the open area below the sea cliff incorporates playing fields to the west of Havoc Road and a natural area known as Havoc Meadow immediately adjacent to it. – “This is managed wild meadow with minimal seasonal maintenance that allows human visitors and use while encouraging wildflowers, insects, birds and mammals.

“As a mosaic habitat it has exceptional   biodiversity right on the edge of Dumbarton. It attracts wildlife and is generally well used by the public. In reality the whole area is Havoc Meadows and should be seen holistically as comprising various complementary components all bound by the shore of the Clyde itself to the south and tree lined sea cliff to the north.

“The birdlife that sweeps in as the tides recede is well acknowledged as amazing. That is not directly affected by the planning proposals, but other aspects are.

“The trees that are  situated immediately above the sea cliff are varied and mature and of great aesthetic value. Some of those manage to cling to the very cliff edge and are quite amazing.

“It is imperative that a thorough tree assessment is done. We note the inclusion of a Tree Survey in the supplementary documentation and reference that all those identified in the Tree Preservation Order will be retained.”

The protection of trees is not West Dunbartonshire Council’s strong suit and the public will be watching to see how Lumberjon Jonathan McColl, pictured left, and his SNP colleagues handle this and do not repeat the bitterly criticised mistakes they made by allowing trees to be chopped down at Garshake.

The Society says there there are many local people who simply love Havoc Meadows for its wildness – “A look at the Friends of Havoc Meadows FaceBook page shows a record of an extraordinary range of birds and bugs, several of which are not common elsewhere in the area.

“Bats certainly roost in some trees and rock face even if not in the cave itself. We note that a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal has been done. This is appreciated, but it should also be noted that the lack of rare species must not detract from the value and importance of the more common ones.

“The connectivity between the site and the core path is accepted in principle, but this must not damage the very characteristics that make the shore, the sea cliff and the immediate area above the sea cliff so attractive.” 


There are strong historical connotations for this site. It is  necessary to provide a professional archaeological assessment of the site.

The archaeological assessment must include any natural features with historical and therefore archaeological connection.

It must be recognised that local community association with the site and adjoining natural features include local legend. Lack of archaeological finds as such must not diminish the importance to the community.

The point at which local legend meets proven historic record for Havoc Hole can be obscure, but that makes it no less important.

The very fact that this small cave is also known as Bruce’s Cave or is associated with William Wallace is indicative of rich tradition.

It is a fact that Robert the Bruce settled at “Cardross”, at that time being a vast area inclusive of this coastline and we can safely presume that he visited the cave.

It would have been expedient to assess this coast in terms of defensibility; the cliff edge being a barrier to some degree; the small cave being a place to hide, possibly for supplies.

He appears to have finally settled near Renton on the shores of the River Leven, but this area was effectively his estate and this is reflected in the nearby names (with some subsequent added d interpretation) of Brucehill and Castlehill.

While current opinion now favours Bruce’s  manor as having been on the Leven, the appearance of an enclosure and ruins on old maps that appear to have been a hunting lodge in the immediate vicinity of this site.

While a little further east and now under housing, this substantiates the community  memory and lore of grand premises that could have been somehow linked to Bruce. Even if that link is wishful thinking it means that at least a watching brief needs to be given to a professional archaeologist.

It is purported that William Wallace sought refuge in this cave. This may not be accurate, but fits in with his one-time intention of attacking DumbartonCastle.

He went on to attack Rosneath Castle instead and may well have lingered here before following the coastline westwards. We know he was pursued and such features could have provided at least some temporary seclusion.

Bill Heaney, editor/publisher of The Democrat, local historian Dr  I.M.M.MacPhail and now retired Chief Librarian Mike Taylor.

Local historian I.M.M.MacPhail quotes Blind Harry with the often repeated words: “in at the flows of Havock, and out at the yetts of Carman”.

While this may include much wishful thinking then and now with superstition melded in, it certainly raises many questions. The identity of Havock is clear. It is this place and the allusion to an in point that certainly aligns with this cave (or something similar).

Dumbarton had its fair share of suppositions and accusations of witchcraft so often connected to the underworld. As author Joseph Irving alluded to, this may well have included anyone not following the mainstream religion of the time.

Superstition with pagan origins and Christianity were often practised in parallel – just in case. It is known that those    suspected of witchcraft met in places like this and that at one time ostracised Catholics fromDumbarton would also seek out such places for some degree of protection.

The stone of the cave is fairly soft and susceptible to erosion, but a local investigator notes that        Havoc hole has a cross and several inscriptions at the entrance and higher up (if you climb) going back nearly 150 years.(AMcC).

Circles have also been noted carved into the rock, although these may not be of the same origins as the famous cup-and-ring marks elsewhere in the area.

The small cave is unlikely to have been occupied for any length of time, but it is sufficiently large to have been used by people through the ages as a temporary shelter; a place to hide in. If we go back even earlier than the aforementioned events, we can compare it to similar caves in such sea cliffs elsewhere in the region.

That at Portkil, for instance, has been shown to have been used in the Bronze Age. Havoc Hole shows signs of disturbance through time with debris accumulating on the floor – material fallen from the walls, remains of fires, imported litter. Yet this may conceal a larger depression that could have been more useful to past generations. Perhaps this even conceals a tunnel.

This area is not covered by the nearby Conservation Area of Kirktonhill nor is it within the Heritage Trails published by the West Dunbartonshire Council, but it is nevertheless worthy of much more attention. It is an important natural feature with Havoc Hole being of great historic and community significance and the Lennox Heritage Society is one of the local bodies which wishes to see it become part of a greater history and heritage trail framework.

To this end it needs to be better signposted and given Local Heritage Status. Local Heritage Status is well established in some parts of the UK. It is defined as a heritage asset such as a building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its  heritage interest.

Such features are not necessarily covered by other statutory protection. There are several features in West Dunbartonshire that would fall into this category and Havoc Hole is a prime example.

Members of the Lennox Heritage Society at a meeting in the Municipal Buildings.

The point at which local legend meets proven historic record for Havoc Hole can be obscure, but that makes it no less important. The very fact that this small cave is also known as Bruce’s Cave or is associated with William Wallace is indicative of rich tradition.

It is clear therefore that disruption of the sea cliff together with Havoc Hole as currently being contemplated by the developer is in contradiction of policy at both national and local authority level.

It is clear therefore that disruption of the sea cliff together with Havoc Hole as currently being contemplated by the developer is in contradiction of policy at both national and local authority level.


The Lennox Heritage Society objects to this application. Of particular concern is the proposed severe intervention to the sea cliff and Havoc Hole.

Leave a Reply