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The Haunting Beauty of Smoo Cave in Durness, Scotland

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Smoo Cave is a popular destination for tourists, as it is one of the most impressive stone age caves in Britain. It is a natural sea cave and is one of the largest in Britain. It is formed from two sea caves that have joined together around 150 meters long.

The cave has a large entrance and a chamber around 20 meters high. It also has several smaller chambers and passages. The cave is home to a colony of bats and has many stalactites and stalagmites.

What is Smoo Cave?

Smoo Cave

Carved deep into Scotland’s towering limestone cliffs, The cave’s natural beauty and singular air of mystery made it a popular destination. It is named Smoo Cave because of the Smoo waterfall, which flows into the cave.

Located near Durness, Sutherland, the cave features three chambers, an underground river, and the largest seaward entrance of any such cave in the UK — an entrance that looms nearly 50 feet above the swells of the North Sea.

Smoo Cave is a popular tourist destination and one of the most impressive caves in Britain. It offers stunning views and is also a popular destination for photographers. Smoo Cave is a great place to visit and is sure to impress.

The Legends of Smoo Cave

Entrance to Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave is a historical jackpot, marrying geology and human history in a way that’s nothing short of fascinating. The cave’s story predates Instagram, smartphones, and even your grandad’s grandad. We’re talking ancient history with a capital A.

The roots of Smoo Cave’s story—or should I say, the stalactites—reach back to the Neolithic period. Around this time, humans got creative with tools and began leaving their mark on this world, quite literally, at places like Smoo Cave.

Skipping through time to the Iron Age, folks were still in Smoo Cave. But it wasn’t until the Vikings/Norse era that our cave got its cool name. Legend says that “Smoo” comes from an Old Norse word ‘smjugg’ or ‘smuga’, meaning a hideout or hole—pretty apt for a cave.

When Sir Walter Raleigh entered the third chamber by boat in 1814, he described it as an exceedingly strange and appropriate home for dark beings from the netherworld.

But the story of Smoo Cave goes back much further than Raleigh’s visit. Artifacts from the Norse, Neolithic, and Iron Ages have been found in the cave’s main chamber.

The main chamber’s blowhole is the scene of several murders in the 16th century when a Scottish highwayman tossed his enemies into it.

Early 1700s History

In the early 1700s, the cave was the setting for a murderous trap. The residents of nearby Durness lured a clan of marauders into the cave and slaughtered them to a man. More deaths occurred later in the century when two Inland Revenue officers were drowned in the second chamber’s thunderous waterfall. One body was never recovered, and that ghost is said to haunt the waterfall.

Then there’s the geology that plays right into the hands of history buffs. That stunning Durness limestone? It’s like nature’s history book, revealing ancient secrets through how water crafted its many mysterious chambers.

Let’s not overlook Allt Smoo, the freshwater stream that’s been a local celebrity since, well, forever. That stream and the relentless sea have shaped Smoo Cave into the marvel it is today.

Surrounded by the stark beauty of the gray ocean, white sands, and eerie rock formations, Smoo Cave is haunted by legend, uncannily magnificent, and unique. It’s an experience that no visitor to Northern Scotland should miss and well worth adding to any traveler’s bucket list.

How to Get There

View in Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave is located in Durness, Sutherland, in northern Scotland. It is a popular tourist destination and can be reached by following the A838 from Durness to the cave. The cave has a car park, and visitors can walk to the entrance. The cave is open all year round, and entry is free.

Is Smoo Cave free?

View of the insides of Smoo Cave, Scotland
Morganti / Adobe Stock

Smoo Cave is free to visit if you explore the exhibition spaces. However, you need a Smoo ticket to enter the cave, Smoo Café, or Smoo Plus (a private function space). Smoo tickets are £14 and include a guided tour of Smooscape and an exhibition or experience at Smooda restaurant.

It is a geological wonder located on the north coast of Scotland. Over thousands of years, the relentless pounding of the North Atlantic waves has formed the cave.

Travel Tips for Visiting

View of the Smoo Cave in Sutherland, Scotland
MatousVins / Adobe Stock

Smoo Cave is a natural wonder that should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. Formed over millions of years, this cave is a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers that will take your breath away.

Here are some tips for making the most of your visit:

  • Wear sturdy shoes – the cave floor can be slippery in places.
  • Bring a flashlight – the cave can be dark in places.
  • Don’t forget your camera – the sea cave is a photographer’s paradise.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. The cave is home to fantastic wildlife, so look for bats, newts, and other creatures.

Safety Information and Precautions

Exploring Smoo Cave can be an absolute blast, but hey, you’ve got to keep those safety gears on. Picture this: the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the echo of water echoing through cavernous spaces—it’s not your average stroll in the park.

First things first, proper footwear is non-negotiable. I mean, have you seen those slippery rocks? Don’t think about flip-flops; sturdy boots or hiking shoes are your best buddies here.

For the more adventurous souls, rafts and boats might be part of the journey. It’s super important to listen to the local guides—those folks know every nook and cranny of these waters, not to mention the quirks of the weather.

Speaking of which, always check the forecast. You don’t want to be caught off guard by a sudden flood—water levels can change faster than the Scottish weather, and that’s saying something.

And you know what’s outdated? Being stranded without cash. Seriously, have some on you; not every place takes cards, and you don’t want to ditch out on some cool Smoo merch because you forgot your wallet.

Remember your personal anecdote quota! Here’s mine: I once saw a guy wearing sandals trying to explore a cave. Not only did he slip within minutes, but he also ended the tour with a pretty sad-looking pinky toe. Lesson? Get the right gear, folks—it makes or breaks the trip (sometimes literally).

See Related: Visiting Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

Features

Interior of Smoo Cave in Durness

The spectacular cave system has been carved out by water over centuries and is now open to visitors who want to explore its dark and mysterious beauty. The cave is also home to various wildlife, including bats, which can be seen flying around in the cave entrance chamber.

Smoo Cave is a natural wonder with many chambers. Some of the most popular sections are the Doon Smoo Chamber, the King’s Chamber, and the Queen’s Chamber.

Doon Smoo Chamber

Majestic Smoo Cave outer chamber with natural light opening, green moss walls, and informative sign.
pxl.store / Adobe Stock

The Doon Smoo Chamber is perhaps the most famous in the cave. Doon Smoo is a Gaelic word that means “the cave of the two holes.” This chamber gets its name from the two large natural openings in the ceiling, which let in light and fresh air. The Doon Smoo Chamber is also home to some of the most beautiful stalactites and stalagmites in Smocave.

King’s Chamber

The King’s Chamber is one of the largest chambers in the cave. It gets its name from the large, natural ceiling opening resembling a crown. The chamber is also home to some stunning stalactites and stalagmites.

Queen’s Chamber

The Queen’s Chamber is another large chamber in the sea cave. It gets its name from the beautiful, natural opening in the ceiling that resembles a queen’s crown. The section is also home to some stunning stalactites and stalagmites.

See Related: Most Amazing Natural Arches in the World

Where the Sea and River Meet

The Lookout Near Smoo Cave in Durness, Scotland

One of the unique features of Smoo Cave is that it contains both fresh water and seawater as well as its waterfall chamber. While its inner rooms were carved out by the river Alt Smoo, its first chamber and gaping entry were created by the constant pounding of the North Sea.

The unceasing action of water upon limestone has created a sea cave that extends 200 feet into the cliff above, with three chambers as wide as 130 feet across. Toward the back of the cave, the Alt Smoo pours through a large sinkhole, creating a rushing underground waterfall in the cavern’s second chamber.

Visitors walk down a long wooden stairway from the clifftop to the ocean shore for year-round access to the cave. A wooden covered walkway leads through the vast first chamber and into the inky darkness of the second chamber, where the waterfall rages.

Those who don’t mind getting wet can sometimes experience the waterfall from a close-up viewing platform. The waterfall is so powerful that the chamber is filled with clouds of mist.

At these times, the thundering sound of the water can be nearly overwhelming. On calmer days, visitors can take a small boat into the third chamber, which is only water-accessible.

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Best Time to Visit

Majestic Smoo Cave with cascading waterfall in Scotland.
Luis / Adobe Stock

When you’re thinking about packing your boots for a trip to Smoo Cave, timing is pretty key. Trust me, you don’t want to be there when it’s raining cats and dogs—it’ll put a real damper on your spelunking adventures. 

Summer is usually when the place buzzes with life. The days are long, and you’ve got a good shot at decent weather. It’s the perfect season to hit the beaches near the cave or enjoy leisurely activities like golf or sailing along the coast.

Now, if you’re the type who avoids crowds like the last slice of pizza at a party, aim for the shoulder months, like late spring or early autumn. The weather’s a bit of a toss-up, but fewer folks around means you can take in the majestic cave at your own pace. And if you’re cruising along the NC500, Smoo Cave is a gem that’s definitely worth a pitstop.

Here’s a quick peek at the essentials:

  • Summer: Ideal for beach jaunts and full-blown itineraries. Accommodation gets tight, so book your hotels or hostels early.
  • Off-Peak Seasons: Offer a cooler, more solitary experience. Finding a spot at artsy hostels or even splashing out on some luxury without busting your wallet is probably easier.

Avoid winter unless you’re a fan of getting whipped by the cold wind. It’s pretty stark, and a fair few places shut down. But, if that’s your cup of tea, layer up and prepare for a dramatic, albeit chilly, coastal vibe.

Nearby Attractions to Smoo Cave

The Old Man of Stoer

Old Man of Stoer

The sea cave is located close to the Old Man of Stoer, a huge rock formation that stands at the entrance to the cave. A strange figure is said to haunt the area around the cave.

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay Scenery

Just a few miles from the ave is Sandwood Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland. The beach is a long, wide stretch of sand surrounded by stunning scenery. It is a popular spot for walkers, and it is also home to a variety of wildlife, including seals, deer, and birds.

Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath Scenery

If you want an even more remote and unspoiled beach, you should head to Cape Wrath. This is the most northerly point of mainland Britain and an area of outstanding natural beauty. The beach here is wild and rugged, making it the perfect spot for a nature lover.

See Related: Trolltunga Norway

Best Places to Stay Near Smoo Cave

Croft 103

Croft 103 in Durness, Scotland
Gabrielle / TripAdvisor

The Croft 103 is an accommodation that is located near the cave. It is a five-star hotel that offers guests various services, including a spa, a restaurant, and free Wi-Fi. The hotel also has a fitness and a business center.

Cloisters

The Cloister is a charming hotel near Smoo Cave. It’s a great place to stay if you’re looking to visit the cave, and it has some excellent amenities that will make your stay very comfortable. The hotel is also in a great location, and close to other beautiful attractions, you’ll want to check out.

Smoo Cave Hotel

Sunset view and the exterior of Smoo Cave Hotel
Smoo Cave Hotel / Facebook

The Smoo Cave Hotel is a four-star accommodation located in the Smoo Cave. The hotel offers guests various services and amenities, including a spa, a restaurant, and a bar. It is also the home to the Cave Adventure Centre, which offers guests a variety of activities, including caving, kayaking, and rock climbing.

FAQs

How long does it take to tour Smoo Cave?

You’re looking at spending around an hour exploring on your own, breathing in that musty, earthy cave air, unlike anything else if you opt for a guided tour, which I recommend for the nitty-gritty stories, set aside about two hours. It gives you time to soak in the details and snap pictures without rushing.

What are the entry fees for visiting Smoo Cave?

Here’s a nice surprise for you—entry to Smoo Cave doesn’t cost a penny. Yep, it’s free! However, if you’re feeling adventurous and want a guided tour, that’ll be around £10 the last time I checked. Just remember, it’s cash only. Make sure to have some notes in your wallet beside those receipts from yesterday’s ice cream splurge.

Can visitors bring pets, such as dogs, into Smoo Cave?

Pets are generally welcome in the cave area. Keep them on a leash; we don’t want Fido to get too adventurous. Imagine trying to coax your dog out of a sea cave with nothing but a soggy biscuit—no, thank you!

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