Thursday, 29 September 2011

Ullapool 3 - The Bone Caves

Friday 16th September.

I've been a bit lazy about getting this last Ullapool post up. It seems the longer I leave these things the more difficult I find it is to go back. Still it was a good day and deserves a mention! 

The weather forecast promised a dry but windy day with the threat of showers later. Despite this warning however we still didn’t get away from the cottage until nearly 11 o’clock. The plan today was to visit the Bone Caves of Inchnadamph, the signpost for which we had seen on Wednesday on the way home. They were about a 30 minute drive north from the cottage and the car park was relatively quiet with only us and three other cars. The walk starts up the  Allt nan Uamh glen following the river of the same name.

The Allt nan Uamh River

and Glen

Now this was one of those walks that started strangely and became a little bit surreal! When I got out of the car I spotted a man up on the side of the hill, (not on any path that I could see), leading a grey saddled horse. He gave no indication of being a walker, neither he nor the horse carried any pack. By the time I was organised and had my camera at the ready he had already disappeared round the side of the hill and out of sight. I wasn’t too disappointed because I thought we’d catch up with him, or at least spot him again. As it turned out however, apart from a few hoof prints and a pile of horse droppings we never saw him again.
No sign of the horseman!

Now this incident on its own was weird enough but about half an hour into our walk, the river disappeared. The river bed still snaked its way up into the hills but it was completely dry. Almost without prompting into my head popped the old 70s hit by America “A Horse with no Name” 

After three days in the desert sun,
 I was looking at a riverbed,
And the story is told of a river that flowed,
Made me sad to think it was dead.
All nonsense, but between the man with the horse and the disappearing river it was getting a bit much. The river isn’t dead of course it just now follows an underground path that must have formed thousands of years ago at the top end of the glen and surfaces again where perhaps the rock formations or the rock itself changes. Not sure about the geology but the cliffs that house the caves are limestone and I know enough to know that the water slowly dissolves the limestone so maybe somewhere deep under the old river bed there’s a labyrinth of water courses and tunnels.

I used to be a river

Anyway we made our way up the side of the dried up riverbed – whistling tunelessly – along a good path for another half hour or so before it split and we took the branch that crossed the riverbed and headed up the side of the hill. The wind was getting uncomfortably strong and it was right into our faces so although the path was in good condition it was quite narrow and made for an interesting climb up to the caves.

Catch up I'll stop whistling!

Neat Sign!

There are four caves, (from right to left), Badger Cave, Reindeer Cave, Bone Cave and Fox’s Den named after the types of bones recovered from them, (Bone Cave being where the only human bones had been found). There’s nothing much to see of course, and we never took a torch with us, so we settled in from the wind and had our lunch and wondered how on earth could you survive in an environment like this with only your wits to live on? We decided that we wouldn’t last a week. If you want more information you can find it here.
 Draughty place for a house!

 But what a view!!
 Left or right!!

 Or even out the front door!

The path carried on past the caves and down into a little bit of a gully before swinging round and re-crossing the dry riverbed. By now we were in full waterproofs but with the wind behind and the temperature still a comfortable 12 deg it was a pleasant descent with the cave high on our left. According to our information leaflet at the time the caves were occupied the valley floor was probably at the same height as the cave entrance and only ended up at its present level after the last ice age. I always find it difficult to get my head round “thousands of years and ice 2 kilometres thick and grinding great valleys out of the mountains”. I don’t think I’ve got the imagination for it! Maybe I need the BBC to do a documentary and show us some clever graphics. On the way down we passed several springs where the river re appeared and these just completed what had been a walk with some very bizarre sights.

The river reappears here

And here

And here

We had the rain with us for the majority of the journey back but it cleared up long enough for us to get changed back at the car. In the end we had been away around 3 hours, so it was a nice comfortable walk that passed a late morning / early afternoon.

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