A MYSTERIOUS network of spooky caves hidden beneath a former mining village could be a secret druid temple, a top historian has claimed.
For hundreds of years the strange series of hand-carved passageways hidden below Gilmerton, Edinburgh, have been linked to witchcraft, smugglers and even the Knights Templar.
But now a prominent historian believes the subterranean spot - underneath a betting shop - is likely to have been a druid temple dating back more 2,000 years.
And Julian Spalding, former head of Glasgow’s museums and galleries, believes the temple was deliberately buried by the ancient priests to protect it.
He now hopes further exploratory work at Gilmerton Cove, opened as a visitor attraction 13 years ago, could unlock a host of other amazing secrets.
Historians have long been baffled by the origins of the site, whose chambers feature stone tables and chairs.
Theories over past uses have included a witches’ coven, a secret whisky still, a drinking den and even the home of an 18th-century 'Hellfire Club'.
Official records show it was created by blacksmith George Paterson in 1724, but Mr Spalding is convinced he probably just dug out rubble used to hide the original temple - where human sacrifices may even have taken place.
He said: “It is very probable that the whole complex was deliberately buried, a widespread ancient practice which prevented the subsequent defilement of sacred sites.
“This interpretation explains why two passages are still blocked by unexcavated rubble. It is inexplicable why Paterson should have filled them up after going to the immense trouble of excavating them.
“The work is beautifully consistent throughout and indicates a team of highly-skilled craftsmen, with numerous assistants, guided by a mastermind. The arrangement of rooms and passages is elaborate and the dividing walls are often remarkably thin.
“All the shapes within the Cove are womb-like and curved, indicating a Celtic or even earlier culture.”
Mr Spalding claims the tunnels are likely to date back to the Iron Age and are of huge international significance because they are so well preserved. He now wants the site to be considered for world heritage status.
Mr Spalding added: “The identification of Gilmerton Cove as a druid temple makes sense of all the evidence.
“Druids were known to meet in secret in woods and caves away from habitation. Gilmerton is on a high ridge, marked with megaliths, overlooking Cramond, the site of mankind’s earliest settlement in Scotland, and, later, a Roman Fort.
“If it is a druid temple, discovered by chance in the 18th century, then it will be the first substantial archaeological evidence of this sophisticated and highly-secretive priesthood.”