Smoo Cave. You know it's going to have something about it, just from the name :) Though it's supposedly one of those daft names like River Avon that means the same thing twice. Perhaps that makes it even better.
Although it should be a pretty remote spot, there were a good deal of tourists stopping here, some in massive buses having come all the way from Austria. But somehow, the site's just about escaped being over-domesticated. There are fences to stop you falling to your doom, and some nice interpretation boards next to the car park. But the balance seems alright.
Firstly, up on the land, there's Allt Smoo, a babbling stream that disappears suddenly into a hole in the ground in an alarming way (for fans of the mysterious karst feature, that's the origin of part of the caves). That's quite a strange thing to see. And then you can wander down many steps into the curiously long inlet from the sea (Geodha Smoo) and into the massive cave entrance itself to see the golden-brown peaty water emerging back out into the world. You can't help imagining what such a huge interior space would seem like to anyone from countless centuries who'd have never otherwise been in such a place. Today we've been to big halls, shopping centres and so on and rather take it for granted. But this would be something quite novel. Not that you yourself are likely to have been in such a big sea cave before, it's said to be the largest in Britain. So you'll be impressed, but possibly in a different way.
Once inside the cave you can pad around on the earth floor looking up at the strange shapes of the rocks above you, but then you can hear the sound of the water pouring in from the stream, and you are drawn to the narrow entrance into the next part of the cave. In this smaller chamber there's some natural light that spills down with the waterfall, and the noise from the water is very loud. It's rather impressive and elemental. Everywhere smells mossy and earthy and damp.
The waterfall chamber is completely flooded, and you're only there easily because of a little platform that's been built. It would be quite something else to have had to paddle or wade through to see it in the gloom. You might have felt a little reticent.
There are even further chambers, as Carl mentions. They're lit up with amber light in my photo. But I just can't imagine wanting to have ventured in there with a burning torch, ducking under the low rocks. I'm a bit of a coward when it comes to dark, enclosed, water-filled underground places. I don't think that's too unreasonable.
If the people who lived here in prehistoric times thought Strange Things about this unusual place, I wouldn't be surprised. They may have just thought it was cool. Which would be fair enough.
This is a good place to visit if you are ever this far north.
There are parking and toilet facilities and a steep path takes you down to the beach and the cave.
After crossing a little wooden foot bridge you can then walk into the entrance of this massive cave and see / hear the waterfall.
However, if you wish to see further into the cave you have to pay (£4 adult / £2 children) to be taken across the water via dinghy. We decided not to bother as time was against us (we still had a long drive ahead) and the children were happy throwing stones into the little stream. Many noisy birds flew overhead.
It's a bit of a climb back up to the car park - particularly if you are carrying children!
The legends of Donald-Duival McKay, the Wizard of the Reay country.
Donald-Duival learned the black art in Italy. The devil sat in the professor's chair of that school, and at the end of each term he claimed as his own the last scholar. One day as they broke up there was a regular scramble, for none wished to be the last. Donald-Duival really was so; but, just as Satan snatched at him, Donald-Duival, pointing to his own shadow, which fell behind him, cried, "Take then the hindmost!" and his shadow being seized, he himself escaped. When he returned to Scotland he was never seen to have a shadow.
Donald went one day to meet his old master in the great Cave of Smoo. They had a violent quarrel, and Donald fled: the print of his horse's hoofs may be seen there to this day. But Donald was himself very cruel, and a ring may also be seen to which at low water he fastened his victims, who of course were drowned by the rising tide. [..]
Donald once explored the Cave of Smoo. Having penetrated further than any man had ever gone, he heard a voice cry, "Donald, Donald-Duival! return!" Undaunted, however, he pushed on till he came to a large cask. In this he bored a hole, and out of it, to his surprise, there jumped a little man about an inch and a half long. Surprise grew to terror when this creature gradually assumed colossal proportions, and addressed him as follows: "Donald, did you ever see so great a wonder?" "Never, by my troth," replied the wizard; "but wert thou to shrink again, that would be a bigger wonder still." The giant grinned assent, and, after diminishing to a span, was simple enough to jump into the cask, which Donald closed immediately, and then left the cave much quicker than he had entered it.
From The Folk-Lore of Sutherland-Shire, by Miss Dempster, in The Folk-Lore Journal, Vol. 6, No. 3. (1888), pp. 149-189.