The is­land mis­sion to find the lost cave of ‘Fern Andy’

Cum­brae is­landers have res­ur­rected old knowl­edge to seek the cave where ‘Fern Andy’ lived dur­ing the 1920s,

The Scotsman - - Heritage - writes Ali­son Camp­sie ali­­[email protected]­

Every­one on the is­land at one time knew about Fern Andy. In the 1920s, he took shel­ter in an over­hang near Fin­try Bay on Cum­brae and forever­more his life has been the stuff of is­land lore and fas­ci­na­tion.

It was in this cave that Fern Andy used plants to weave bas­kets and mats, which he sold on lo­cally. Some have de­scribed him as a her­mit but oth­ers re­call him as an ami­able fig­ure who made friends and re­ceived vis­i­tors to his home.

Food de­liv­er­ies would be made for him at the old Fin­try Bay Le­mon­ade Bar, it has been re­called.

For a gen­er­a­tion, the where­abouts of his cave drifted out of lo­cal knowl­edge, the old tales from grand­par­ents slowly evap­o­rat­ing away over time.

Now, a small group of is­landers led by Les­ley Fraser, who was born and raised on Cum­brae, be­lieve they have found Fern Andy’s cave once again af­ter a year-long search for the leg­endary liv­ing quar­ters.

Scott Fer­ris, who runs Mapes of Mill­port bike shop on the is­land, de­scribed the quest to find Fern Andy’s cave as a “labour of love” for Ms Fraser.

Mr Fer­ris, 43, said: “I hol­i­dayed on the is­land as a child and he was well­known back then as the her­mit who lived round the back of the is­land.

“It was al­most a kind of mis­sion to find his cave. For a gen­er­a­tion, no one re­ally knew where it was.”

Mr Fer­ris used an old pho­to­graph of Fern Andy in his home to lo­cate the cave, which was found off the beaten track af­ter a long trudge through un­der­growth.

The im­age shows him sit­ting down on a bench set be­tween the nat­u­ral forms of the cave with other pic­tures show­ing a lit­tle cur­tain that was used to con­ceal part of the cave’s en­trance.

Mar­garet Duthie, 87, grew up on Cum­brae and re­mem­bers a fam­ily friend, who worked in a butch­ers, go­ing to visit Fern Andy in the cave.

Fern Andy, who may have come from Ayr­shire farm­ing stock, rented a small house, de­scribed as a room and kitchen, in Mill­port dur­ing the win­ter months, it is be­lieved.

It is un­der­stood he died in the late 1930s.

She added: “Now is the right time of year to find his cave, when there are no leaves on the trees and the sun is very, very low in the sky.”

Ms Duthie said she was not sur­prised his story still at­tracted in­ter­est.

“It is part of the old his­tory of Mill­port. Every­one knew about Fern Andy,” she said.

Cave dwelling in Scot­land for­mally came to an end in 1915 un­der the De­fence of the Realm Act, pos­si­bly to keep coast­lines free from fires dur­ingthe First World War.

How­ever, re­search has found that 55 peo­ple were still listed as liv­ing in caves in the 1917 gov­ern­ment cen­sus with the nat­u­ral shel­ters com­monly used by the trav­el­ling com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly in the far north of Scot­land.

It is not clear if Fern Andy had per­mis­sion from the landowner to live in the cave on Cum­brae but he lived there amid a puni­tive regime against no­madism, trav­ellers and gyp­sies in Scot­land.

Gypsy Trav­eller cul­ture had been ef­fec­tively out­lawed in Scot­land on June 29, 1865 with the Tres­pass (Scot­land) Act which made it il­le­gal to en­camp on pri­vate prop­erty with­out the prior con­sent and per­mis­sion of the owner.

Ac­cord­ing to Shamus Mcphee, in a pa­per for char­ity Iriss, which com­piles re­search for pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in so­cial ser­vices, a com­mis­sion is ap­pointed in 1894 to in­ves­ti­gate ways of com­bat­ing no­madism in Scot­land with ev­i­dence taken in ci­ties across the coun­try.

The next year, the com­mis­sion’s re­port pro­poses sev­eral reme­dies: ‘ex­tir­pa­tion’ (ex­ter­mi­na­tion); de­por- tation to the colonies and in­dus­trial schools to wean no­mad chil­dren away from a wan­der­ing ex­is­tence.

Liv­ing in tents and caves is banned and po­lice are en­cour­aged to mon­i­tor caves to en­sure that they are not be­ing re-oc­cu­pied, Mr Mcphee said.


0 Fern Andy (top) lived in a cave near Fin­try Bay on Cum­brae (right) in the 1920s with is­landers, in­clud­ing Scott Fer­ris (above) among those who set about find­ing the shel­ter.

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