Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

This is a whole blog post about caves! Woohoo! No but seriously, caves are fun.

We were lucky enough to visit the Smoo Caves on our North Coast 500 road trip in Scotland. The caves are located in Durness and are unique in the UK because the first chamber has been formed by the sea whereas the inner chambers are freshwater passages. Uh huh, I’m now a cave geek.

The outer chamber of the cave is striking to look at, enormous and yet secretive; it is accessed by a winding path down to sea level. Stood in the car park, the caves are no where to be seen – it’s only when you begin the walk down that you realise you were stood on top of them! The chamber is cavernous and filled with stone towers; impressive to look at but isn’t really the main event and you’d be missing a trick if you didn’t go on the tour and delve in further.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about the tours but they run daily throughout the summer and you can just show up and sign up for the next available one. It’s £6 per person and there’s no need to book in advance (tours depend on the weather - the caves flood in heavy rain - so they don’t take advance bookings).

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands
The entrance to the inner caves is off to the right in the outer chamber, through the covered walkway. Once we’d donned hard hats, we headed into the first inner cave which is known as the waterfall chamber and is full of water… obviously. We clambered into a rubber dingy and then floated out into the middle of the cave like proper explorers or summin’.

Because it had been unusually dry in the weeks leading up to our visit, the waterfall was nowhere to be seen as it only runs when a sink point in the river further up overflows. Obvs it would have been cool to see the waterfall cascading in from above, but it did mean we got to float round more of the cave and directly underneath the sinkhole the water normally crashes through (and the main source of floodlight in the cave).

We had to duck down and practically flatten ourselves against the boat to get under the very low arch into the next cave – which was more like a tunnel. We clambered out of the dingy using a rope and no dignity whatsoever and then headed further into the tunnel, where our guide gave us the opportunity to see how easy the rocks sparked when rubbed together – very easy as it turns out. It created a very strong smell of burning hair!

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

At the end of the tunnel was, what looked like, a small pool of water. But when you shined a torch on it, we could see that the cave actually continued really far down (albeit flooded). Our guide told us they believe there are more caves 10 metres below where we were stood. It had taken them 10 years to get permission to start digging in the caves – that was 4 years ago. They’re currently 4-5 metres from breaking into a new cave and hoping to be in by Christmas. It was fascinating to hear some of the things they have found; a lynx tooth – from an Asian lynx – that was approximately 7000 years old. Traces of hazelnuts amongst the charcoal yet there have been no hazelnut trees in Scotland for 2000 years – which suggests evidence of hunter gatherers using the caves once upon a time.

How fascinating. No, seriously, I found the whole thing really interesting. Partly because caves that have a) naturally formed and b) been around for donkey's years are really intriguing and atmospheric and partly because I found the story of two guys campaigning for years to be able to dig in the caves so heartening. Ten years campaigning and four years (so far) giving tours during the summer and digging throughout the winter, never knowing what they might find. To be that committed and passionate about something is to be admired (and okay, yes, I was slightly jealous pf these cool cave dwellers also).

Would highly recommend a visit to Smoo Caves – you’ll need sensible shoes (aka walking boots), a waterproof and be willing to get a little muddy.

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

Exploring Smoo Caves In The Scottish Highlands

2 comments

  1. Gorgeous photos! These caves sound so interesting, I love how far they date back and that they are entirely naturally formed but each part in different ways. It's so cool too that there are plenty more mysteries to be uncovered in the other cave spaces through digging. Really enjoyed reading this post, it's created a want in me to become a cave explorer (Something that no other post has inspired in me yet!) Lovely post

    beesytimes.co.uk

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    1. Thanks so much! I’m all for joining you as a cave explorer :)

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