The Cave


Posted by steven on 14/02/2005 at 01:43 PM

Uamh An Ard Achadh, Cave of the High Field or High Pasture Cave, is located at national grid reference NG 5943 1971, approximately 1.25km south east of the village of Torrin on the island of Skye (see Fig.1).  The cave entrance is situated at an altitude of 58 metres above Ordnance Datum in a shallow valley on the northern slopes of Beinn an Dubhaich (236 metres), a granite outlier of the Eastern Red Hills Centre (Bell & Harris, 1986:84-93) and has extensive views north east to Loch Cill Chriosd and Glen Suardal, and northwest to the granite Red Hills of Skye (see Fig.2 & 3).  Beinn an Dubhaich represents a Tertiary granite intrusion, which splits the western end of a major outcrop of the Cambrian Durness Limestone (Ryder, 1995:3).  These limestone deposits have also been shot through with numerous igneous dykes, which has resulted in the caves of the area being relatively frequent, but short, and displaying interesting cave morphology.

General Location Maps

The entrance to the cave is a small climbable shaft, some 25 metres northeast of the obvious stream sink, which was dug out by members of University College of London Speleological Society in 1972.  Further exploration of the system and a basic survey by the caving group, was followed up in August 1973 by a detailed BCRA Grade 5c survey of the system by the Moldywarps Speleo Group (Ryder, 1995:28 and see Fig.4).  The cave explorations and survey provided details of a cave system with a total length of 320 metres and maximum depth of 12.8 metres, producing the second longest cave on Skye.

Figure 1. Location map for High Pasture Cave.  The highlighted area within the red box shows the position where the surface stream sinks on the granite/limestone contact.

A description of the cave taken from Caves of Skye (Idem:28) mentions a dry passage running off the main streamway for 15 metres to a choke, some 40 metres from the entrance containing many calcited bones within the floor; while an early description of the cave found in a Grampian Speleological Group Bulletin (Vol.5, No.4:1973) provided the following: “A short climb led into a low passage 1m high and 2m wide which was blocked by rubble after 8m.  This passage contained a large number of various bones, some of which had obviously been there a long time as they had been calcited over”.  When we first visited the cave in 1997 the passage remained relatively undisturbed, with many bones indeed visible within the floor of calcited boulders and sedimentary deposits.  However, a visit to the cave on the 15th May 2002 revealed significant damage to these deposits, caused by cavers digging the boulder choke at the end of the dry passage in search of new cave.  Much of the calcite floor had been destroyed, especially at the farthest reaches of the passage, and the underlying material displaced and taken out of context.  The passage had been extended by some 6 metres in length, terminating in a constricted crawl and dig.  Throughout the passage a significant quantity of bone, animal teeth and lumps of charcoal were identified and on closer examination fragments of marine mollusc shell, fire-cracked pebbles and sandstone beach pebbles were found.

Figure 2. A view over the dry valley containing the cave to Blaven and the Red Cuillin beyond.  The red arrow shows the position of the excavated entrance.

Figure 3. A view north from the entrance to High Pasture Cave, to Ben Suardal and Loch Cill Chriosd.

Having been involved with the Scotland’s First Settlers Project for the past five years, a multi-disciplinary project from the University of Edinburgh to investigate the earliest settlement of the Inner Sound (Finlayson, Hardy & Wickham-Jones, 1999; Hardy & Wickham-Jones, 2000, 2001 and 2002) the potential importance of the deposits identified in High Pasture Cave became apparent.  However, in order to provide a detailed research base for subsequent investigations of the deposits and to attempt some interpretation as to when the deposits entered the cave, it was necessary to clarify certain geomorphological features of the cave and the surrounding area.  In order to assist with this objective a detailed survey was conducted of the passage containing the faunal remains and material associated with an anthropogenic origin.  Also, a controlled collection of disturbed deposits was undertaken, in order to prevent further damage by visiting cavers and to gain further insights into the type of material represented.

A preliminary report was published in July 2003, providing details of the fieldwork undertaken at this stage including elements on the geomorphology of the cave and archaeological fieldwork relating to the High Pasture Cave discoveries (Birch et al, 2003). Tim Lawson (a geomorphologist specialising in the study of caves), Andrew Kitchener (Curator of Mammal and Bird Bones at the National Museums of Scotland who has worked extensively on the faunal assemblage recovered from the Bone Caves at Inchnadamph), Fraser Hunter (Curator of Archaeology at the National Museums of Scotland) and Peter Rowley-Conwy (Reader in Environmental Archaeology at the University of Durham), provided invaluable assistance at this stage in assessing the potential importance of the site and its wider archaeological context.

Next entry: Cave Morphology

Previous entry: About the Cave