Despite being the end point of one of the best hikes on the Isle of Skye, Spar Cave is a place that many visitors to Scotland’s most popular island will have never heard of before. This hidden wonder can only be reached at certain times of day so a visit requires a fair bit of pre-planning. That and a sense of adventure of course!
Spar Cave is located near Elgol, most well known for its popular wildlife-spotting boat trips that leave daily in peak season. It has some of the best coastline that the island offers and on a day with good weather, you can bask on the rocks and watch the seals frolic in the water around you. It is a worthy day out in its own right. In my opinion though, 80m deep Spar Cave is the best reason to make the windy journey down into Elgol.
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The history of Spar Cave
Although Spar Cave is the most commonly used name for this hidden gem, its true Gaelic title is Slochd Altimen, which means Nursing Cave. This dates back from the 9th century where legend has it that a local princess fell in love with the son of a rival chief who was found shipwrecked.
Nothing could stop the force of their love and despite the fact that their fathers were sworn enemies, the princess followed her heart, eventually giving birth to a child. Knowing that there would be serious consequences if her father found out, she concealed the baby in a cave to keep it safe until the feud was over.
In more recent times, Spar Cave was famously visited in 1814 by Sir Walter Scott who became so interested in it that he mentioned it in his poem ‘Lord of the Isles’.
‘The mermaid’s alabaster grot, who bathes her limbs in the sunless well, deep in Strathaird’s enchanted cell’.
In the 19th century, a wall was built by the landowner in front of the cave entrance, to make it harder for people to visit without a guide. He began charging an entrance fee for visitors and didn’t want anyone finding an alternative way in! Sir Walter did not let this deter him though and instead scaled the wall using a rope.
The wall now has a large hole, in it which means that visiting is significantly easier in modern times. This is the result of a passing gunboat shooting through the wall, therefore destroying the practicalities of charging visitors to enter. As with many of Scotland’s other wonders, this place has been left open and free for the public to visit.
Hiking to Spar Cave, Isle of Skye
To find the starting point of the hike, simply enter Spar Cave into your Sat Nav and follow the directions. There is no designated parking but there are a few places where you can leave your car. As always, never park in passing spaces. Many of the roads on Skye are very winding and the passing places are integral to traffic flow.
The trail down to Spar Cave
During our visit to Spar Cave, we parked up to the side of a cattle grid and had no problems getting out. From here, we followed the hike as outlined on Walk Highlands. The trail officially begins at the phone box in Glasnakille.
Follow the road until you see a ruined building on your left. You will then need to pass through the gate and the field of sheep. The path descends, heading towards the coast. You will need to follow the trail left by the sheep (this can be quite faint) and cross a small stream. In dry weather, this is closer to a trickle than a stream. Now that you have entered the meadow, bear right and follow the steep path down towards the sea inlet.
Once at the bottom, make your way across the boulders and continue towards the sea. You will need to round another two cliff faces before you find the one that will lead you to Spar Cave.
To enter Spar Cave, it is imperative that you plan with the tide. Sometimes half of the trail will be completely inaccessible so bear this in mind when arranging your visit. Owing to the changing of the tides, the rocks that you will need to traverse to enter the cave will be very slippery. You should take care when crossing them as twisted ankles are all too common!
Once you are looking at a wider gorge, make your way towards the cliff face set back in front of you. You can see the remains of the wall originally constructed to enforce guided visits here. There are two cave entrances. The one on the right is filled with water and the one on the left, opens up into Spar Cave.
At this point, you will need to don your head torch as you will lose the light of the outside quickly. Initially, the cave is muddy but as it turns a corner you will find yourself in a vast cavern made of flowstone (formed from calcium carbonate). There used to be a large number of stalactites in Spar Cave, however, many of these were taken as souvenirs during the Victorian times.
As you look up, you will see a sort of flowstone staircase. Although it looks very slippery, it is surprisingly grippy, especially with good walking shoes. Ascend carefully up the flows, making sure to keep at least three points of contact at all times.
Once you reach the top, there is a relatively short decent into the small pool below. To return, do the journey in reverse, making sure you leave the cave before the tide comes in.
The beauty of Spar Cave
It is only once you have scaled the flowstone ‘steps’ that you can truly appreciate the beauty of Spar Cave. This stunning cavern feels truly magical, like something from a fantasy novel. There are small pools filled with fresh water and a one once you descend the other side.
Although I had a very quick dip in the pool (by dip I mean I went in up to my knees and then jumped out for fear of hypothermia), it is very cold. I had every intention of swimming around but being the wimp I am, I chickened out.
Tim, however, did brave the pool and did a couple of laps, all the time gasping from the shock of the cold. It is worth saying that I have personally met people more hardcore than I who have comfortably swam in the pool. I guess it just depends on how hardy and resilient to the cold that you are.
Beyond the pool, there is very little else to see. From there, Tim and I ascended back to the platform with the small pools to get dressed and prepare for the journey back down.
Although I skipped swimming in the icy cold pool, Spar Cave is one place which is worth a visit regardless. Adventure seekers will love the challenge of finding the cave and also thrive on the fact that so few others make this journey. It might not be as famous as the Storr or the Fairy Glen but it is still one of Skye’s best attractions.
Planning for a trip into Spar Cave
What should I bring?
Although the journey into Spar Cave is not very physically demanding, it will prove to be a challenge for most people. Appropriate attire goes a long way to ensuring a successful trip, as does the right equipment.
I would recommend you wear/bring the following:
- Sports leggings (to allow you to be flexible)
- Quick dry t-shirt
- Swimming shorts/costume (under your clothes)
- Grippy walking shoes
- Head torch (the cave is pitch black)
- Change of clothes
- Snacks (just in case you get trapped)
- Hiking poles (if you struggle with steep downhill trekking or the weather is bad)
When should I go?
Spar Cave is only accessible for one hour either side of low tide. Therefore, you need to check the tide times to plan your visit in advance. Luckily, you shouldn’t need more than a couple of hours to hike to the cave and explore.
A note for the anxious: If you time your visit wrong or overstay, you will become trapped in the cave for 12 hours until the tide drops. Always keep an eye on the time and bring both a phone and a watch just incase one of the batteries dies. I also advise bringing snacks in case of becoming trapped in the cave.
A trip into Spar Cave does not come without risk but if you plan adequately, you should have no problems.
Although Spar Cave is a good destination year-round, the hiking trail would be very difficult to navigate in the wet. I would advise waiting for a dry day before tackling the descent down to Spar Cave. If you’re visiting the Isle of Skye during winter, be aware that it rains… a lot.
Where should I stay?
Nearby Broadford has some great accommodation options. Travelling to Spar Cave from here will take around 40 minutes by car. These are some of the best places in the area:
Backpack on a budget at Broadford Youth Hostel
Starting at just £25 ($30USD) for a dorm bed, Broadford Youth Hostel is without a doubt the backpacker choice. There is good self catering facilities and common areas where you are able to meet other travellers. It benefits from a central location close to all of Broadford’s main amenities.
Go for glamping at Tigh Beag na h’aibhne
This beautiful apartment is well worth a visit for travellers in Skye. The pod houses up to two people and has a comfy living room as well as free wifi. There is even a hot tub for guests looking to put their feet up after a hard day hiking through the mountains. It’s small but cute and will only set you back £150 ($180USD) a night (for two guests).
Splash out at Broadford Hotel
This clean and comfortable hotel overlooks Broadford Bay which offers some beautiful views. The staff are known for their approachability and knowledge about the local area. There are great facilities close by including a large Co-Op for grocery shopping, a fish and chip takeaway, as well as many restaurants. Although not a budget choice at £200 ($245USD) for a twin room, this place is sure to offer a splash of luxury in one of Skye’s best locations!
Has Spar Cave made it onto your Isle of Skye itinerary?
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