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Bone Caves (Assynt)

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The Bone caves are located above Allt Nan Uamh. Excavations here have revealed bones of the animals from the last ice age 11,000 years ago.

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      28.12.2010 15:52
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      A group of caves in North West Scotland

      If you take the A837, which is the main road north from Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands, then you might spot the sign to the Bone Caves. There is a small wooden signpost that points into a parking area but it is quite easy to miss. I have driven along this road many times and I have often seen this sign but it was only recently that I stopped off to investigate. The car park is located close to the village of Inchnadamph in Assynt. The first thing that you need to be aware of is that it is 3 kilometre walk from the car park to reach the caves and the path that leads there will take you up through the Uamh Valley and high into the mountains. It is not a journey for the infirm and in a region where all four seasons can be experienced in a matter of hours one should be prepared with suitable clothing, especially decent footwear. The journey isn't actually a particularly difficult one and the footpath keeps to the valley bottom until the very last part, after which it is a steep climb up to the actual caves, themselves. I arrived quite early in the morning and I didn't see anyone else on my walk there but on my back I passed quite a few people including some families with quite young children. I've no idea if these people made it right to the caves or not. At the car park there are information boards telling the visitor about this attraction and my guess is that a lot of people set off with good intentions but don't actually make it all the way. Even if you don't make it all the way to the caves it is still a lovely walk. The footpath stays very close to the river and there are two different waterfalls along the way. The advantage of being so close to the river is that the ground is quite flat but the downside is that it was a boggy in places. The caves don't come into view until the path leaves the river and begins its steep ascent towards them. They are situated high on a rocky outcrop and it's a bit of a scramble to reach them but if you can manage it then it is well worth the effort as the views down the valley (and further up the valley) are quite breathtaking. The caves are believed to be about 150,000 years old, which makes them quite modern in cave terms. They are especially important because their location high up in the mountains means that they were above the level of the glacier that filled this valley around 10,000 years ago and thus they provide important information about what lived here pre-glaciation. When the glacier melted that covered the whole of the North West of Scotland melted it stripped away fossil evidence from all but the highest peaks. Locally these caves are known as Creag nan Uamh (Uamh Caves) which is taken from the name of the valley in which they are found but they became known as the Bones Caves by the early explorers and the name stuck. They were first excavated in 1889 and again in 1926. During both excavations large numbers of bones were found that included both animal and human bones. This provided evidence that humans occupied this part of Scotland very soon after the ice melted about 10,000 years ago. Animal bones included Reindeer, Arctic Fox, Brown Bear, Wolf and Lynx. Radiocarbon dating found the most recent of these bones to date from around 10,000 years ago suggesting that these animals probably died out around the same time that the glacier melted and humans arrived. The oldest animal bones were about 24,000 years old. When you reach the caves you find five different caves, all of which are large enough to walk inside. The largest two caves are quite deep and extend for about 15 metres but the other three are quite small. They weren't as dark as I imaged they would be inside due to the relatively large size of the entrances and there was a noticeable difference in air temperature inside. During the winter months these caves would have been much warmer than the temperature outside but on hot days during the summer they would have been cooler. There was no sign of any bones when I visited just lots of dripping water everywhere. I did discover quite by chance that when stood at the entrance of the caves there was the most amazing echo of our voices that carried right down the valley. All of the caves are colloquially known as the Bone Caves but the larger two caves have their own individual names - Reindeer Cave and Badger Cave. Would I recommend a visit - yes!

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