Friday, 12 August 2011

Inchnadamph The Bone Caves

This was the last day of our week away in Ullapool. The weather was like the rest of the week, unpredictable with the possibility of showers. We planned on doing something fairly easy as there was heavy rain forecast for the early evening onwards and we had all had adventurous days the day before, myself doing the whole of the Quinag massif and the others had driven to the far north to walk out to Sandwood Bay. We had spoke all week about visiting the Bone Caves near Inchnadamph as none of us had bothered with the small walk before as we usually head for the hills or longer day walks. Looking at the guide books a few days earlier we were surprised to find that the actual Bone Caves were not those at the end of the glen above Inchnadamph but actually down a glen a few miles south of Inchnadamph. The day before I spotted a really tiny wooden sign at the proper car park saying 'Bone Caves' so now knew where it was. So we set off from Ullapool late morning and headed along the drive along the A835 towards Inchnadamph, a road I could drive down every day of my life and never get bored. Stac Polly looked fabulous as everything around it was dark and cloud covered yet it was lit up basking in sunshine by itself. After a short while we reached the sign posted car park at the foot of the Allt nan Uamh glen.

Badger Cave above Allt nan Uamh

The visitor boards at the car park were in a bad state but there was a box of free informative leaflets on the history of the Bone Caves. There was also a sign on the information boards letting visitors know that they are due an upgrade in the near future. We set off along the footpath passing a few lovely waterfalls on the Allt nan Uamh to the right. The footpath then rises steadily and bends in to the glen. The glen is beautiful. I have to admit as I said above I have ignored this walk thinking it would be really easy, close to the road and full of tourists. I couldn't have been more wrong to be honest. There was not one single other person the whole day, the car park was empty, the glen was beautiful, there were several fascinating features and the views were stunning. The walk to the caves is not as simple as I had first thought either and requires a moderate two and a half mile walk along an often rocky path. After rounding a bend in the glen we reached something that was just awesome. I had seen on the map a feature marked as the Fuaran Allt nan Uamh spring. I have seen many springs before and seen places in limestone areas where streams and small rivers suddenly appear from the ground and out of caves. However this was something else it literally appears from nowhere and is no stream or small river it is a full on flowing river. We all stood and looked puzzled for ages as we tried to comprehend how on earth a very shallow large puddle of water suddenly developed enough water to be a full flowing river just a metre further down. You really do have to see it to believe it.

Fuaran Allt nan Uamh spring

After the Fuaran Allt nan Uamh spring the normal river course continues up the glen but dries up after a few hundred metres. We continued along the valley following the path by the dried up river bed. The big crags of Creag nan Umah that contain the Bone Caves were now visible at the head of the glen. As we were silently moving along the glen we had the fright of our lives as a speeding RAF Tornado jet darted across the valley from one side to the other in less than a second. Usually you get a slight distant noise indicating the arrival of a fast moving jet but as we were down in the low glen it just suddenly appeared and certainly scared the hell out of me. Most guide books show the path as sticking to the northern side of the Allt nan Umah until the far end of the glen passing the caves then looping back to them after crossing the Allt nan Uamh. It seems these days that the preferred route is now along a better laid path which crosses the Allt nan Uamh before the caves and ascends a safe steep path up to Creag nan Uamh. So we crossed the dried up river bad and headed up the clear and well laid path through heather and ferns and then over steep rocky ground to Creag nan Uamh and the Bone Caves. Up to our right as we ascended this path Steve spotted a bird which turned out to be a big Buzzard that sat on the rocks on the skyline above and watched as we passed by.

Steve & Craig in Bone Cave

The Bone Caves which walkers can explore consist of four main caves. There is the Badger Cave, Bone Cave, Reindeer Cave and Fox's Den. The first cave on the right hand side is the Badger Cave which we put our packs down in. We looked out from the cave and marvelled at the view across to the rather splendid looking Beinn nan Cnaimhsaig while Craig who is probably half the size of the rest of us explored the back of the cave. Steve and myself also tried to explore the rest of the cave but unfortunately crashed our heads on the roof of the cave, although it sounds like we were both daft I have to admit I was by far the most daft as I followed Steve out and watched him do it first then did it myself in the same spot. We went off to explore the second cave known as the Bone Cave, this cave has a small narrow passage connecting it to the third cave known as the Reindeer Cave. The guide books and the information leaflets stated that only a small child would be able to crawl through this small narrow passage. Craig set off through the narrow passage and appeared out of the other side where Steve, Elaina and Myself were waiting with our cameras. Looking at the narrow passage was quite scary when it was dark but looking at it with a head torch I felt there was a chance I could fit through it and drag myself through. I foolishly shared this thought with Steve who then challenged me to do it and said if I did he would buy my meal that night. Always one for a challenge I obliged and prepared myself for the squeeze. It was a terrifying ordeal, I don't like dark tight spaces like that. I was ecstatic with relief when I got out of the other side and found myself in the Reindeer Cave with Steve and Elaina pointing cameras at me while shaking their heads.

Narrow passage from Bone Cave to Reindeer Cave

Anyone expecting to see actual bones in the caves or walk any distance in to deep caves will be disappointed by the Bone Caves but that isn't what they are about. Cavers exploring further in to this cave system and the surrounding area have found the bones of animals as far back as forty seven thousand years ago. The list of species found is incredibly long and includes the likes of Northern Lynx, Polar Bear, Arctic Lemming, Arctic Fox, Brown Bear, Wolf, Reindeer and also includes four thousand year old  human remains. The caves are a designated Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is not known for definite why so many bones were found in these particular caves but one theory suggests they were washed in by the melt waters from glaciers. I would suggest reading the free leaflets that are available at the start of the walk to help your imagination wonder off to the world that left us these clues. The more important bones such as the Polar Bear and Lynx skulls are kept in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, though there are casts of some of the bones in the Visitor Centre in Lochinver for you to look at. After checking out the Fox's Den and eating Mars Bars in the Badger Cave we headed back the way we came. The views down the glen on the return were stunning from the descent path. I could see Spidean Coinich on The Quinag in the distance that I had tackled the day before so bored the rest of the group again with stories of the previous days adventure. On the return route I decided to stay off the path most of the way and walked down the dried up river bed. The different types of rock along the the rivers bed were fascinating. We reached the incredible Fuaran Allt nan Uamh spring again then made our way back through the glen to the start. If you have ever dismissed this walk like myself then don't as it is a great wee walk. After the walk we headed down to Lochinver to get Pies for folks back home and then made our way to the Kylesku Hotel where we spent our last night of the holiday consuming Seafood Platters, drinking a pint of An Teallach and watching Seals in the loch. There is no better place on earth than this part of Scotland in my opinion I will go back every year of my life that I can. Great week in a great place with great friends.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

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