Situated outside the village of Elgol on the Isle of Skye, Spar Cave is one of Scotland’s great adventure spots. This tidal cave is somewhat of a hidden gem on Skye, generally overlooked by visitors to the Misty Isle.
While the walk to get there is short, the route can be challenging, only heightening the sense of adventure that a visit here brings. This, combined with the fact that this hidden wonder can only be reached at certain times of the day, means that a visit here requires a bit of planning!
If you want to explore Spar Cave, you’re in luck. This guide, written by someone who lives on Skye, will reveal everything you need to know for the ultimate off-the-beaten-path adventure on the island!
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A Guide to Spar Cave, Isle of Skye
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Spar Cave Map
What is Spar Cave?
Located close to Elgol, Spar Cave is somewhat of a hidden gem on the Isle of Skye. Only accessible an hour either side of low tide, this secret cavern offers intrepid travellers one of the best off-the-beaten-track adventures on Skye.
Steeped in myth and legend, the history of the cave is fascinating, making it a must-visit for those who like to experience places with an intriguing backstory. As well as a captivating history, this is also one of the best (and relatively unknown) wild swimming spots on the Isle of Skye.
Spar Cave hit the mainstream after being featured in an episode of ‘Running Wild with Bear Grylls’ and Ben Stiller. Despite this, visitor numbers have stayed relatively low, especially when compared to other attractions on the island.
Best Time to Visit Spar Cave
Spar Cave can be visited year-round, however, you should be careful to select a day with good weather. If you’re visiting the Isle of Skye during winter, be aware that it rains… a lot. The trail to the cave is steep in places and can be slippery and boggy after rainfall. The rocks that you need to scramble over on your way to the cave can also be treacherous, plastered with seaweed. Take care!
As Spar Cave is tidal, it can only be visited an hour either side of low tide. Remember to check the tide times when planning your visit. You shouldn’t need more than a couple of hours to hike to the cave and explore its interior.
While the cave itself never floods, the entrance can fill with water which cuts off the entrance. 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 in case one of the batteries dies. I also recommend bringing some snacks and drinking water – just in case!
History of Spar Cave, Isle of Skye
Most people know this hidden cavern as Spar Cave. It got its name from the calcite crystals adorning the cave walls. However, its Gaelic name is Slochd Altimen, which means ‘Nursing Cave’. This dates back to the 9th century when our legend begins.
It is believed that a local princess fell in love with a man who was found shipwrecked. Little did she know, but he was the son of a rival chief and their fathers were sworn enemies. To avoid serious family repercussions, they kept their love a secret.
The princess eventually fell pregnant but knew that her father could not find out. To prevent war between the two families, she concealed the baby in Spar Cave to keep it safe until the feud had blown over.
Spar Cave first found fame when it was visited in 1814 by Sir Walter Scott. He became so fascinated by the cave that he mentioned it in his poem ‘Lord of the Isles’, where he described a mermaid bathing in the hidden pool of water which sits inside the cave.
‘The mermaid’s alabaster grot, who bathes her limbs in the sunless well, deep in Strathaird’s enchanted cell’.
This poem made waves through the upper classes and during the 19th century, many wealthy Victorians visited Spar Cave on day trips. The landowner got fed up with the visitors and decided to erect a wall in front of the cave entrance so he had a way of managing visitors. In true capitalist style, he also began charging an entrance fee!
The wall now has a large hole in it as a result of a passing gunboat shooting through it! Viva la revolución! As with many of Scotland’s natural wonders, this place is now free for the public to visit.
Hiking to Spar Cave, Isle of Skye
There is no designated parking for Spar Cave but there are a few places where you can leave your car. As always, never park in the passing spaces! Many of the roads on Skye are very windy and the passing places are integral to traffic flow. During our visit to Spar Cave, we parked up at the side of the nearby cattle grid and had no problems getting out.
From here, we followed the hike as outlined on Walk Highlands. The trail to Spar Cave officially begins at the phone box in Glasnakille. To get here from the cattle grid, walk to the end of the road and turn right at the T-junction. Continue along this road. When you see a ruined building in a field on your left, pass through the gate and follow the trail as it descends. At the fork in the path, stay left and make your way towards the trees.
There is a sharp right which will take you into a gully down towards a sea inlet. Once at the bottom, cross the boulders and continue left around the coast. You will need to round another two cliff faces before you find the inlet that will lead you to Spar Cave.
It is always good to have an offline copy of your trail map. After all, phone signal comes and goes, especially in more remote areas! To make sure that I don’t get caught out, I use AllTrails Pro. It allows me to download trail maps direct to my phone and also tracks my journey, compiling my stats at the end. I also love sharing my adventures with the AllTrails community! Try a 7-day free trial of AllTrails Pro here.
To enter Spar Cave, you must plan with the tides as this section of the trail is completely inaccessible when the tide is in. Once you are looking at a wider inlet with vertical sides, make your way towards the cliff face set back in front of you.
Walk carefully along the rock ledge and take care not to lose your footing – the seaweed can make these boulders pretty slippery and it is very easy to twist an ankle.
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. Don your head torch before you enter as you will lose the light of the outside quickly.
Good to know! Spar Cave is pitch black and a phone torch won’t cut it. Make sure you bring an actual head torch with you.
Initially, the cave is muddy but as it turns a corner you will find yourself in a vast cavern made of 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 descent into the small pool below. To return, do the journey in reverse, making sure you leave the cave before the tide comes in.
Only once you have scaled the flowstone ‘steps’ can you truly appreciate Spar Cave’s beauty. This stunning cavern feels truly magical, like something from a fantasy novel. There are small pools filled with freshwater and another deeper one once you descend the other side.
If you’re looking for a secluded and novel wild swimming spot, this is for you! Although I had a very quick dip in the pool (I went in up to my knees and then jumped out for fear of hypothermia), it was very cold! Take this as your warning and bring a dry robe if you have one!
Even if you don’t fancy taking a swim in the chilling water, Spar Cave is worth a visit regardless. Adventure seekers will love the challenge of finding the cavern and also thrive on the myth and legend that have flourished here. It might not be as famous as the Fairy Glen but if you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, this is it!
What Should I Bring to Spar Cave?
- Hiking poles
- Sports leggings
- Quick dry t-shirt
- Swimming shorts/costume
- Dry robe
- Walking shoes
- Head torch
- Drinking water
- Change of clothes
How to Get to Spar Cave
The Spar Cave trail is one of the best hikes on the Isle of Skye and comes highly recommended for those looking to lose the bulk of the tourist crowds. There are no signs to Spar Cave so you’ll have to follow the directions above carefully.
Unless you are staying in Elgol, you will need to make your way to the town of Broadford to get to Spar Cave. Turn left at the Broadford Hotel and follow the road through the glen towards Elgol. Spar Cave is marked on Google Maps so you should be able to input the address into your Sat Nav. Park at the side of the cattle grid and begin the walk from there.
Where to Stay Nearby
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:
Broadford Youth Hostel is without a doubt a great value-for-money backpacker choice. There are decent self-catering facilities and common areas where you’ll be able to meet other travellers. It benefits from a central location close to all of Broadford’s main amenities.
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 in the hills!
Broadford Hotel (£££)
This clean and comfortable hotel overlooks Broadford Bay and 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, this place is sure to offer a splash of luxury in one of Skye’s best locations!
Spar Cave FAQs
Is Spar Cave accessible to all?
Spar Cave requires scrambling over some slippery rocks which means that it is not a suitable hike for those with limited mobility. Spar Cave is not accessible by wheelchair.
Can I visit Spar Cave year-round?
Spar Cave is only accessible at low tide. While it can be visited year-round, you should avoid visiting in wet weather.
How hard is the hike to Spar Cave?
The hike to Spar Cave is not very physically demanding, however, it would be challenging in bad weather.
How deep is Spar Cave?
Spar Cave is 80 metres deep.
What happens if I get stuck in Spar Cave?
The water doesn’t reach the top of Spar Cave so it is possible to overnight there. If you become trapped, just wait it out at the top of the cave. It will take around 12 hours for the tide to go out again – make sure you bring snacks and water just in case!
Have you visited Spar Cave on the Isle of Skye yet? Share your experience with us in the comments!