Smoo Cave was supposed to be one of the more unusual waterfalling excursions in that we were well aware that it featured a waterfall spilling into a pothole deep inside the cave itself. However, when we visited in late August 2014, the access footpath to get into the chamber with the waterfall was closed as a result of storm damage that really did in the area earlier in the month. So all we have to show for it was a cave visit with audio from the loud crashing water coming from the waterfall room, but we have nothing visual as far as the waterfall itself. Until we are fortunate to come back under conditions where we can see the waterfall with our own eyes, we can’t give it a higher rating since we can’t honestly say that we’ve experienced the waterfall itself. Only upon a successful re-visit would we consider re-evaluating the scenic rating score.
As for the cave itself, we began from a well-signposted and established car park just less than a mile east of the small town of Durness (see directions below). Since the site had free parking, I was quite surprised that we were able to find parking without much difficulty. If in the odd chance that the car park would be too full, there would be backup parking at the much larger space at the visitor center in Durness, in which case you’d have to walk the near mile to even get started.
Once we parked the car, we then walked down a series of steps leading from the cliff tops down to the stream leaving the mouth of the Smoo Cave. From a bridge down there, we got nice views of the impressively large cave entrance, and it hastened our steps to get into the cave as soon as we could. Once we were inside the cool confines of the cave, we walked around the stream past some signage talking about tours and the storm damage closure, then we briefly crossed the shallow stream before getting onto the wooden walkway with a rooftop shelter. Speaking of the storm damage, it could be possible that storm surges might have caused an inrush of water from the ocean to enter the cave. Either that, or the pothole waterfall further in the cave was so flooded that it damaged the walking infrastructure that otherwise would have allowed us to view the falls safely and for free.
Anyways, it was from this walkway that barricades were erected to prevent further access as a result of the storm damage to the walkway further beyond this point. There were a couple of guys with hard hats working on the walkway so I’d imagine any attempts at hopping the barricade would have been met with resistance from these guys. While it was disappointing at not being able to see the waterfall in the cave (the very reason why we came all the way out here in the first place), I’d have to say the size of this cave was impressive (said to be the largest sea cave in Britain), and the surrounding area of Durness had its own raw beauty from fine sand beaches to rocky cliffs with offshore sea stacks. Overall, our visit only took 35 minutes, but it would have been longer had we been able to spend more time in the waterfall room.
Smoo Cave was near the town of Durness on the far northwest extreme of Highland Scotland. To get here from Inverness, we took a route that involved taking the A9 towards Tore (a little over 8 miles), then taking the A835 (becoming A837) towards the A894 (about 74 miles). Then, we’d follow the A894 for another 18 miles before it merges with the A838 road. We then followed the A838 road (most of which was single lane and heavily-trafficked) the last 20 miles to the Smoo Cave Car Park (1.5 miles east of the Durness Visitor Center along the A838 or 0.8 miles cutting right across a narrow local road before rejoining the A838).
Overall, this 124-mile drive would take about 2.5-3 hours without stops. I’m sure there are other ways to get to Durness from Inverness, but our route was largely based on trying to visit other attractions in the Northwestern Highlands of Scotland along the way.
Anyways, for additional context, our base of Inverness was 57 miles (90 minutes drive) southeast of Ullapool, 155 miles (3.5 hours drive) north of Edinburgh and 169 miles (3.5 hours drive) north of Glasgow.
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