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A bit of a surprise!

PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 11:59 pm
by Myth
Last visited in December 2007 - four families, and some extras... This is a repost/re-edit - was not stored against the walk before!

Only a short distance from the Bone Caves, the other set of caves in the area are well worth a visit. They are reached off the approach to Ben More Assynt.

There is plenty of space for parking, and the walk up the hull is simple, and to the abandoned croft, on very good tracks. It gets a little wetter and thinner from here, but never less than obvious. Before getting to where you would turn up the north slope for the Munros, you follow the path crossing over the stream and quarter up the heathery slope to the southeast. Good map/location work is valuable, as the path fades out to sheep trails before you get to the caves.

The first two of the caves marked on the map (1:40000 landranger), and reached via the fading path, are impressive for the views down into the gloom, and the noise and rush of the water below, but are as rightly noted in the description, a little dangerous - certainly not worth climbing down to without full equipment - and even then of limited extent. There is a third similar cave - but don't give up - contrary to the route description, you are not finished...

The final cave of the group, is slightly lower and further East, and is a "real" livable cave - you can't quite stand in it, but can walk in, and it has a dry compated floor. On a rainy day would make an excellent shelter, able to accommodate half a dozen sleeping bags with ease.
This final cave also has a treat in store for those with equipment, strong nerves, and at the tail of several days of fine weather... whilst you can go seriously underground in a short distance and relative safety, underground all safety is relative in ways that kill you quick - make SURE someone knows where you are and what you intend doing - way more so than for going on a hill!

NOTE:Equip, Strong Nerve, Good Weather <-- ALL essential. Caving experience is really recommended to go beyond the stream chamber.

From the main cave there is a creep low on the right as you enter - a minimum of torches, but helmets recommended, takes you to a hidden, smaller cave. There is a chimney with a lot of loose debris to the right - the chimney is very dangerous unless you are experienced, STAY CLEAR - there's not much to see up there anyway, as the top passage is full of debris only a few meters on.
Of much more interest, there is a hidden sump in a jumble of rocks straight across from the entry, and here's where the nerves are required. IF the floor and what's visible of the sump are not absolutely dry, LEAVE. Otherwise you can enter (feet first for preference - its simple) and wriggle/clamber down into the current stream chamber. This is relatively simple and safe as there was no loose rock in/around the sump when we were there, and the exit is simple.

Once you are inside the stream chamber there are lots of loose and damp boulders, stones and pebbles, so extreme care is required if you want to cross the stream. I'd say full caving equipment is required to go any further, but from the entry point you can admire the stream, and some stalactites, and it is strangely beautiful in torchlight. Those with potholing equipment will find several dry tunnels running off in various directions on the far side of the stream, including a weird "loop" that brings you out where you least expect... gave us quite the start!

As should be obvious, we were equipped, and took almost all our party (of 9 adults and 11 kids) into the stream chamber for a look, and a few adults further on across the stream. One of our party would not go through the creep, and another could not bring themselves to try the sump, which does have to be taken on trust unless you don't mind diving in head first! The caves are truly extraordinary for Scotland, although very tame compared to some of my English caving experiences.

As mentioned in the guide, rather than retracing your step, instead follow the path of the stream back down (it's partly underground remember) and this brings lots of gorgeous views into play, with more evidence of caves visible (not viable for explore), several lovely waterfalls that are worth the walk alone, as well as some spectacular mini-gorges. You can't go all the way down, but can get a lot further than you may think before having to climb back out of the steepening gorge to appear in the field below the abandoned croft. Bear in mind that footing is slippery on the rocks near the stream in all weathers...

Another great "after lunch" walk, and one that children will LOVE - as long as you remember the torches!

Re: A bit of a surprise!

PostPosted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 7:58 am
by maddjock
what struck me when I was up here was the roaring echoing noise of the water disappearing underground... didnt get very far into the caves... no experience in this, but something I wouldnt mind doing...

Re: A bit of a surprise!

PostPosted: Sat Apr 18, 2009 11:12 am
by Myth
Yeah - the noise is almost haunting.

It's amazingly tranquil underground - I imagine it would be a great place if you liked to meditate...

Re: A bit of a surprise!

PostPosted: Sat Apr 18, 2009 11:30 am
by Caberfeidh
There is a theory that these ancient places were used for their acoustic properties; stone circles and ancient burial mounds, caves with signs of use in ancient times all have a certain resonance which would induce trance-like states in anyone present.Try googling Aaron Watson Archaeology Research Archaeo-acoutics for more info. And next time you see a stone circle, check if the inner sides of the stones have been smoothed deliberately - to reflect sound better.

Re: A bit of a surprise!

PostPosted: Sun Apr 26, 2009 5:43 am
by mountain coward
Sounds really interesting... not sure I'd cope with the creep though and I'm sure I wouldn't do the sump... I'm not a trusting person!

Presumably you've caved/potholed in my local area of the Dales? I remember once going to look at Yordas cave in Kingsdale (between Ingleton and Dentdale) with my mother. We got there and hung around uselessly as we didn't have a very good torch for the passage down to the underground beck. Shortly, another couple turned up and also hung around uselessly. A few minutes later, a well-equipped caving party arrived with the required 1000 candlepower flashlights... they geared up and entered the cave... followed by all of us! :lol: Of course, after our little free guided excursion, we had to get ourselves out in the almost-dark with our puny torches as the cavers were continuing... Great fun though...