Uamh nan Claig-ionn.

Living in Glasgow has its problems for cavers! Bull Pot Farm is a long way south and cave withdrawal symptoms often set in fairly quickly. So we decided to try some of the holes in Scotland, why not start with the deepest. So one cold Sunday morning we set off north for the 100 mile drive to
BalIachulish. Our party consisted of three Glasgow potholer’s, Mark Sefton, John Kerry & myself and an exiled LUSS caver, Mike, now living in Edinburgh.

Uamh nan Claig ionn, or Cave of the Skulls was discovered by Iain Ogston in February 1977, in Glen Stockdale near Duror. We found the waterfall that entered the entrance fairly quickly, we had been given excellent directions by a local mountaineer/caver. We entered prepared to find a muddy, slimy crawl from beginning to end, but no, the entrance crawl was in clean washed limestone, with crystal clear, ice cold water flowing round our knees. A few yards inside the roof came down and the ice cold water was now finding its way into all the holes in our wetsuits. In different circumstances it would be refreshing. After a short straight tube we met a sharp bend and the head of the first pitch, a fifteen foot overhang. The limestone in the upper part of the cave is very shattered with the effect that the ladder, battery lead, tackle, etc. got caught in the spiraling take off. At the bottom was a spray-filled chamber with the water disappearing down a 12 foot climb at the far end. Below the climb was a fairly large chamber with an inlet joining on the right, this we investigated later. At the far end of the boulder-strewn chamber, a superb, natural belay point enabled the big pitch to be laddered almost clear of the water. The 35 foot pitch was an impressive shaft cutting through the almost black Appin limestone.

At the foot of the ladder the stream entered a narrow, rift passage called “The House of Cards”, full of large flakes. One 10 foot flake acted as belay for the third pitch, a damp twenty-footer landing in a pool which was followed almost immediately by a very loose rift pitch. It was at this stage that we realized that the last ladder had been left at the top of the big pitch. Mark & Mike went back for it while I photographed John as he hung on the ladder in the ice-cold water. Eventually the tackle arrived and we rigged the pitch using the hefty bolt provided. The 5 foot ladder turned out to be five feet short. We had brought an extra ladder, just in case, but it was back at the big pitch and no-one wanted to go for it! Shorter cavers regretted this on the return, as the missing five feet were awkward in the falling water. The pitch landed in a gravel-floored chamber, the stream continuing through a tight duck into a short length of passage before the final sump.

Our return journey was uneventful until we got to the inlet. Mark vas determined to give it a try - a 300 foot crawl along “Nutwood High Street” which included the only formations in the cave. We were halted by a shingled-up, flat out crawl. John & Mike were determined to dig their way out. After 20 feet of digging, flat-out in the water, fresh air could be smelt but there were many ways on. I volunteered to go out the way we had entered and direct them from the other side. I was glad to be moving again and was soon outside. There I discovered why the water was so cold, the temperature was well below zero and the stream was running down a frozen waterfall into the entrance. Muffled shouts came from within but there was an enormous pile of shingle to be dug through. My less than encouraging remarks soon caused a retreat by the digging party and it wasn’t long before we were warming up in a local hotel. In conclusion it was an interesting hole that I shall certainly go down again, perhaps in the summer.

Bob Hill.


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