Culver Hole: A Medieval Dovecote Steeped in Smugglers Myth

The medieval Culver Hole at Port Eynon on the Gower Peninsula.(Image: Andrew Bennett. Culver Hole at Port Eynon, Gower)

Nestled beneath the rugged sea cliffs of the Gower Peninsula, an area of outstanding natural beauty in the south of Wales, this remarkable collision of man and nature is easily missed from the coastal pathways above. A breathtaking walled sea cave, Culver Hole dates back to medieval times. Its history is steeped in folk tales of smugglers and secret passages, but the cave’s original function is rather less romantic.

“Believed to date from the 13th or 14th century, Culver Hole is sealed off by a sixty foot high stone wall, that resembles something out of an Indiana Jones film set”, wrote Martin Aaron in a BBC blog post. Visitors are, however, more likely to find evidence of Columbidae rather than Serpentes.

Culver Hole in South Wales.

(Image: Alan Richards)

From inside, the centuries-old purpose behind the construction of Culver Hole, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Scheduled Ancient Monument, is plain to see. Aaron writes that “the internal wall face is honeycombed with around thirty tiers of rectangular nesting boxes which would have been home to hundreds of medieval pigeons.”

(Image: Nick Earl)

Pigeons were an important source of red meat and fresh eggs during times of hardship, and their ability to breed year round made them attractive to people of all social classes. As locals and livestock struggled to stretch meagre food stocks across the long winter months, the Blue Rock Pigeon would have been an especially desirable option, writes Explore Gower.

(Image: Ceri Roberts)

Moreover, the word culver derives from the Old English culfre (or culufre), meaning a pigeon or dove. Explore Gower adds that “the term culverhouse is still used in some parts of Britain to denote a dovecote.” But what’s in a name? In the case of Culver Hole, it seems, everything!

Its hundreds of purpose-built nest sites located behind the high stone wall, concealing several floors and rough stone stairways, requires little further explanation. But this is the British coastline, so it’s not particularly surprising that centuries-old stories of smugglers have added a touch of derring do to the local pigeons.

(Image: Aaron Jones)

Folklore tells of smugglers stashing their contraband inside the walled sea cave. More elaborate versions of the legend tell of a secret passage, or smugglers tunnel, connecting Culver Hole to the nearby salt house at Port Eynon. Though there’s nothing especially mythical about a tunnel, even a hidden one, secret passages are common in urban legend, and have been linked to the notion of hidden gold or lost treasure. Perhaps there’s a touch of Indiana Jones to Culver Hole after all!

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