The Spar Cave, Skye Earthcache
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WELL DONE TO THEJACKRUSTLES FOR BEING FTF
Parking available at N57 08.419, W006 04.431
Spar Cave is its popular name, but its true Gaelic title is Slochd Altrimen, or Nursing Cave. This dates from the 9th century when a local princess fell in love with the shipwrecked son of a rival chief. Unfortunately their fathers were sworn enemies and when she gave birth to a child, she concealed it in the cave to ensure its survival until the feud was settled.
A visit to the cave requires forward planning and great care, and should not be underestimated. The cave is only accessible 1 hour either side of low tide. Please check the tide times before venturing out and ensure you leave enough time to get back round the headland before you are cut off.
There is a steep, uneven path down to the shore and the route to the cave involves climbing over huge rocks and then clambering over slippery, sea-weed covered boulders. Inside the cave it is extremely dark and the floor is very wet and muddy to begin with and then you will have to climb a steep wet flowstone ramp with large puddles to claim the cache. Waterproof boots and clothes as well as a good torch and gloves are essential. We would not recommend this for pre-school age children (unless they are well used to the great outdoors), but parents must make their own judgement. For these reasons we have given the cache a 5/5 rating.
From Elgol, follow the single track road to Glasnakille on the western shore of Loch Slapin. Turn right at the T-junction. Soon after you will see an old ruin on your left, park nearby (please do not obstruct other traffic or block gates). Follow the faint path, by the right of the ruin, down the steep, grassy slope. Keep to the left and continue through the trees until you reach the cliffs, climb down to a rocky inlet (see photo). From here, go left along the shoreline beneath the towering Jurassic limestone cliffs. The canyon that leads to the cave entrance lies around the next headland (see photo). It drives 200ft inland and vertical walls of rock on either side rise to at least 100ft.
At the far end of the canyon, at the boulder beach, you will see the moss-covered remains of an old wall. It was built in the 19th century by the landowner to prevent people visiting without a guide. But it failed to deter some, Sir Walter Scott scaled the wall using a rope when he visited in 1814. He later described the cave in his poem “The Lord of the Isles”. ‘The mermaid’s alabaster grot, who bathes her limbs in the sunless well, deep in Strathaird’s enchanted cell’.
Beyond the ruined wall, there are two passages. The muddy tunnel on the right ends shortly after entering. The one on the left takes you deep into the mystical chamber of the Spar Cave.
The caves are located inside a narrow band of limestone and marble, which runs from Smoo Cave near Durness on the north coast of Sutherland to the south east and across Skye. The Spar Cave is known as a Solutional Cave, these are the most frequently occurring types of cave and such form in rock that is soluble such as limestone. Limestone cannot be dissolved by pure water but can by rain water due to the carbon dioxide it has collected from the air and soil, this turns the limestone into calcium carbonate (calcite). The minerals are dissolved in the water and then deposited when the water can no longer hold the minerals in solution leaving formations called Speleothems, ie. flowstones, stalactites, stalagmites. This dissolving happens along the numerous joints (vertical) and bedding planes (horizontal) in the limestone. In time the cracks enlarge to form cavern systems. Flowstones are composed of sheetlike deposits of calcite formed where the water flows down the walls or along the floor. Flowing films of water build up layers of calcite.
PLEASE AVOID TOUCHING THE CALCITE WITH BARE HANDS AS A SIMPLE DEPOSIT OF GREASE FROM YOUR FINGERTIPS IS ENOUGH TO STOP THE WATER FLOWING OVER IT AND THEREFORE DAMAGING THE CALCITE, THANKS.
The passage turns into the darkness and you will reach the base of the incredible, slippery-looking flowstone staircase. At first it appears impossible to scale, but in reality it has excellent grip and good footholds. Half way up, the steepness increases making the ascent more challenging. Eventually you will reach a plateau flanked by wonderful formations, centuries in the making. Here you can see where Victorian visitors in the 19th century removed many of the stalagmites and stalactites for souvenirs and blackened the ceiling with their torches. Beyond the plateau, the floor slopes away steeply, dropping to a deep pool of crystal clear water flanked by flowstone arches. This is Scott's Mermaid’s pool. It is fairly easy to descend to this pool, but not so easy to cross, the only way across is to swim (in the depths you will see the remains of a wooden raft which was used by a local in an unsuccessful attempt to cross the pool). The cave ends abruptly just after.
To claim the cache, please email us your answers to the following. ANY LOGS WITHOUT AN EMAIL BEING RECEIVED WILL BE DELETED WITHOUT NOTIFICATION.
1. Stand on the plateau and look down to the Mermaid’s pool below. Describe what you see immediately behind the pool and provide an estimate of the size of the pool.
2. How high do you think the cave is from the pool to the ceiling?
3. Still at the plateau, look closely by your feet. Describe the shape of the tiny formations on the flowstone and why do you think they are the shape they are?
4. Please attach a photo to your log of you, your dog, gps, thumb or something personal to prove you were here. Please do not show any spoilers in your photo.
June 2019 the logging tasks for EC were updated. COs can now insist on a photo as proof of visit.
Please respect the beauty of these caves, take only photographs and leave only footprints!!
WATCH OUT FOR THE TIDE – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!
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