St Ninian's Cave stands at the rear of a collapse in part of the rocky headland at the north-western end of the stony beach at Physgill. The beach looks out over Port Castle Bay and is some three miles south-west of Whithorn.
You reach the cave from a well signposted car park near Physgill House. From here it is a walk of a mile to the cave itself. The well made path leads down into the increasingly steep sided Physgill Glen, which is beautifully wooded for much of its length.
At one point the path divides, with a higher level option crossing the burn while a lower level alternative stays to the right or northern side of the burn. The two meet a little further on: the lower level option has a couple of patches that can be muddy after rain.
Physgill Glen emerges onto a stony beach and from here a signpost directs you along the fairly rough final 400 yards to the cave itself. Access is via an obvious rising ramp of stones, and this emerges face to face with the cave.
St Ninian's Cave is traditionally believed to have been used as a place of personal retreat and prayer by St Ninian, who founded the first church at Whithorn some time in the 390s. As a result it is today a place of pilgrimage for those coming to the area on the trail of St Ninian. And as the cave itself bears evidence, this is nothing new. Seven small crosses inscribed on the western face of the rock forming the cave and its entrance are believed to have been carved by pilgrims in the 700s and 800s.
Other carvings among the very many on view bear dates of 1718, 1866 and 1871, while more recent visitors have left their mark in the form of wooden crosses constructed from driftwood, or rocks and pebbles, some bearing inscriptions, pushed into clefts in the rock.
St Ninian's Cave was excavated in the 1880s. This brought to light a number of stones bearing carved crosses, as well as pillar stones and an Anglian headstone bearing a runic inscription. The eleven stones recovered from the cave are now on view in the Whithorn Priory visitor centre.
To modern eyes, the cave seems to offer little shelter for anyone wanting to spend much time here. It is very likely that what you can see today is just the far end of what was once a much larger cave, whose roof has at some point collapsed. Deciding whether such a collapse might have taken place before the time of St Ninian, or after his time but before the visits of pilgrims in the 700s, or in the medieval era, is very much more speculative. One thing the excavations did reveal was that at some point in relatively modern times, someone walled in the front of the cave to make it more habitable. Traces of this were removed in 1950.