There is, after all, nothing to see, nothing but a pebbled beach, an expanse of clear ocean and the view of a distant shoreline below the wide sky. Approaching the beach from the glen, look to your right and you can see a cleft in the rocky headland.
There is nothing to hear but the beat of the tide.
There is nothing to do.
Pilgrimage is here to there, there to here, it is a merging of journey and destination. It is departure, approach, arrival. For the pilgrim, destination is not physical place, it is atonement, mystical union.
You get to the cave through the Physgill wooded glen. The winding path splits in two. A moment of deliberation, but it doesn’t matter which way you choose, the paths soon converge again. There are muddy, boggy bits even now, in mid-July. You tread carefully to save your shoes and there is no reason to hurry. No show time. Nothing to see, hear, or do.
The pebbled beach can’t be rushed. The stones range from boulder sized stones to walnut sized stones and every size of stone in between. The stones have hieroglyphs, or pictogram — letters and pictures carved by earth’s slow time. You walk slowly over the beach, picking footholds on the shifting pebbles. The eye is drawn to the stones. Who doesn’t look down and pick a stone up and decipher its code? I chose two small stones. The first has human stick figure on one of its sides and a cross on the other. The second has a configuration of lines that I read like a Rorschach test or the thrown bones of divination.
One looks towards the bay, the sky, the distant horizon, and then down at the feet, placing each foot carefully to avoid a stumble, then one looks to the cave, then back to the crashing waves, then to the vegetation line to adjudge if the midway point between the beginning of the beach and the cave has been reached.
Ninian’s cave is not the diminutive hermit-cave of imagination. Its ceiling height, in relations to its footprint, makes of it a miniature cathedral. In the 4th Century, AD, Saint Ninian knelt here to pray. Or maybe he didn’t. Legend or history. Take your pick. I believe that Saint Ninian knelt and prayed in this cave.
St. Ninian’s cave is a sea cave formed along a fault in lower Silurian greywacke 443 (+/– 1.5) million years ago and discovered by human kind long before St. Ninian discovered it anew in 397 AD.
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Saint Ninian is reputed to have established his ministry in Whithorn. His stone church, Candida Casa, gave us the name, Whithorn. St. Ninian is credited with bringing Christianity to the Picts.
The cave is three miles south of Whithorn. The approach is through wooded Physgill Glen, a walk of approximately one mile. The pebbled beach stretches for 400 yards. The cave is 10 feet wide and 15 feet high.