Durness: The wonders of Smoo Cave

The first time I visited the Highlands was 2004. I was a very impressionable 23 year-old and what I saw certainly made an impression. I can remember pulling over at the side of the road and actually bursting into tears because the landscape was so beautiful and awe-inspiring. Since that trip I’ve spent 7 weeks in total over the following 12 years exploring the ruins, coastline and mountains of the Scottish Highlands but one of the places I keep heading back to time after time is Durness.

Durness is a small but spread out village on the northwest coast. Wikipedia tells me that the current population is around 700 although it never feels like it. 2km east of the centre of the village lies Smoo Cave. The word Smoo is thought to originate from the Norse ‘smjugg’ or ‘smuga’ meaning a hole or hiding-place and there are many folktales about smugglers and vikings connected to the cave. Smoo Cave started life about 485 million years ago when it was formed by a combination of erosion from the sea along a geological fault line and an inland underground stream which has formed the innermost chambers.


Smoo holds many archeological secrets but none so stunning as the 20m high waterfall which can be reached via a short dingy trip into one of the inner chambers. The current custodian, tour guide and all round aficionado of everything Smoo is Colin The Caveman – a fascinating man who will go out of his way to share his knowledge on the history and current archeological developments at Smoo. When Colin isn’t giving boat trips to the tourists in the summer months, he is busy excavating and searching for clues to Smoo’s vast history. He believes that Smoo was once inhabited as he has found traces of carbon from the burning of fires and is currently excavating a new part of the cave and is busy uncovering new geological features. I look forward to meeting up with Colin in a few weeks and he has kindly offered to show me what he has been working on recently.

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