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Toll Fear a'Chradh Chinn  Heidbanger Hole  * Shakehole  Cairn Cave  Rana Hole  Mole Hole  Campbell's Cave [Allt nan Uamh]  * Shakehole  Creag nan Uamh Bone Cave [7]  Creag nan Uamh Bone Cave [8]  Radain [1] (Toll)  Creag nan Uamh Bone Cave [6]  3-Gs Cave  Creag nan Uamh Bone Cave [5]  Valley of the Wrens Sink  Foxes' Den 

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Claonaite (Uamh an)

Assynt, Alt Nan Uamh, Sutherland.

NGR:NC 27095 16563
WGS84:58.10418, -4.93587
Length:3426 m
Vert. Range:110 m
Altitude:343 m
Geology:Limestone, Eilean Dubh Formation - Dolostone
Tags:Cave, Archaeo, SSSI

Uamh an Claonaite is reached by contouring round beneath Creag nan Uamh and ascending the dry valley to the east. Once at the head of the valley, walk 150m south along an indistinct path through peat hags to arrive above a large boulder-floored collapse. The entrance lies below a 5m high cliff.

At the upper entrance to Uamh an Claonaite, water from Lochan Claionaite intermittently flows along to the Claonaite Sinks (see 3Gs Cave). Only in the wettest weather - unfortunately quite frequent - does flood water overflow on the surface into the lower valley and the entrance to the cave. In a deep depression in the normally dry valley, a very tight hole in a boulder ruckle at the foot of a small cliff drops first into a small chamber then into the stream passage below. A narrow and roughly linear passage (zig-zigging) then negotiates its way [add distance] northwards (slightly west of north) under the floor of the valley, passing through sumps 1 to 3 before turning by sump 4, 5, 6a and 6b under the higher ground to the west. Beyond sump 6b a section of larger passage connects through a major boulder ruckle to Belh Aven (approximately located some 60 m below Rana Hole*). Beyond Belh Aven, the adventurous (or daft) can follow the very wet stream passage along the lower edge of the cave but a dry, comfortable walking height (crawling height only in places) passage runs along the upper edge. The two routes are separated by a broad band of silt, gravel and small boulders rejoining at the north end. At some points, it is possible to cross between the two routes but mostly the steep sides of the lower passage and the mound of rocks and gravel between are impassable. At the the northern (inner) end of the cave is the Great Northern Time Machine a massive chamber (or group of chambers) under Creag nan Uamh.

*Belh Aven is actually slightly east of Rana Hole.

Flood pulses flowing down the valley occasionally reposition the boulders at the entrance to the cave. The main hazard is flooding. High water floods the main passage at several points, and can make others impassable. In really wet conditions, the sinks near Loch an Claonaite cannot take the full water discharge, so it continues over the surface to cascade down the cave entrance. Under these conditions the cave would be un-enterable. Uphill and to the right of the current entrance, heavy rainfall is gradually re-opening a collapsed former entrance which remains very unstable. [Caves of Assynt]

The original entrance to Scotland's longest cave system has been engineered through an unstable boulder choke. Great care should be taken to avoid putting undue stress on individual boulders. In wet weather, several points in the cave sump, or become impossible due to powerful water flow. [CNCC]

Claonaite 1

From the entrance to the cave, the boulder choke lands in a low, wide passage containing the main streamway. The water issues from impenetrable boulders and flows downstream in a gradually heightening passage to arrive at a waterfall into a rift. The 4m drop can be climbed directly or the water avoided by an exposed step into the rift followed by a climb down. The rift opens into an impressively large sloping chamber before swinging to the right and down into a normally chest-deep pool. A sharp left-hand bend that sumps in high water quickly reaches shallower ground. Boulders moved by floods can pile up and deepen the pool. The passage continues, increasing in size, passes a small grotto on the left, then plunges down into sump 1. The sump was dived in 1975.

The original dive route was the full length of sump 1, some 30 m. A GSG dive in 1979 found an alternative (13 m) route. The guideline which once ran through this sump has been removed and the sump is not free-diveable. Later in 1979, a shingle bank at the outlet from sump 1 was removed and a sump bypass was revealed. This is a watery crawl to the left of the main sump. Crawl forward a couple of meters then turn right and duck under a couple of arches to reach Claonaite 2. Do not attempt to go any further if water levels are rising, heavy rain is expected or if there is snow cover and a warm front is forecast. All could lead to a prolonged stay!

Claonaite 2

From the pool beyond the sump bypass a crawl leads a few metres further on to the exits from sump 1. To its right, looking downstream, is the way into The Igloo (a slightly raised area above the streamway). If the sump 1 bypass is flooded it is possible to wait here safely for rescue. A spade is left here to help visitors remove the shingle bank that tends to form downstream of the sump. A loop of passage heads east then north via Levitation Sump to join the Capital Series.

Continuing in the main streamway, the flat roofed, 1.5m high passage soon arrives at a 2m waterfall plunging into Bottomless Pillar Pool. Behind the pillar is one entry into Capital Series (see below), but the main route involves a semi-traverse round the left side of the pool. A few metres later, the main stream plunges down two cascades to the left, while ahead and to the right are two more entrances to Capital Series.

The Capital Series is a series of loops off Claonaite 2, on the right, between the Bottomless Pillar Pool and the cascades. Starting from its lower end, Woodworm Passage in the east (right hand) wall by the cascades twists for 40m, both horizontally and vertically on its way to Mud Chamber. Also in the right wall by the cascades, a hole opens through to a low circular chamber. To the right; a crawl leads back down to Bottomless Pillar Pool, while ahead; another crawl soon heightens into the much eroded Potholes Passage before arriving at a small chamber (Levitation Junction) with a stream rising from gravel in the floor. An energetic manoeuvre (hence Levitation) gains access to a hole at head height in the right-hand wall. To the left, the stream flows from a low 10m passage, ending at Levitation Sump. Just ahead, the stream cascades down a hole in the floor and sinks at the bottom. Levitation Sump, a 3m dive in a constricted passage, emerges at the bottom of a chamber with a waist deep pool. Climbing over to the right, a further pool with minimal airspace leads to a small chamber. A further short duck arrives at a complex of larger, dry passages leading back to The Igloo by sump 1.

[On the current 2019 survey of the Claonaite System, the name Potholes Passage seems to have migrated to south of Levitation Sump onto the passage back to the Igloo.]

Downstream from Levitation Junction more mud-floored passage leads to Mud Chamber. Here a grovel in the stream, squeezing past unstable boulders, opens into a small chamber. The water can be followed to a round sump chamber. Ahead, a way on can be felt just under the surface. This sump is less than 1m long and leads to a few metres of low muddy passage. Another opening can be felt under the right-hand wall and a second short sump enters a larger passage. A wetsuit hood is recommended. A slope up over rocks enters Polo Chamber, mostly filled with a ripple-marked cone of sand with a small inlet eroding its centre. To the left, water flows down a wet bedding-plane, the Damp Course, thought to connect with Wet Rot Passage. The main route off the far side of the chamber ends in a boulder choke after 15m (it may be possible to squeeze through from here to Mud Chamber). The Alcove, a curious circular chamber to theleft, contains mud to a great depth.

Capital Series therefore offers an interesting round trip, but Levitation Sump is not lined or recommended for free diving.

Back in the main streamway after the cascades, the water flows slowly through wide pools, while up to the right, The Eaves, a parallel sand floored passage has several exits back to the main stream, one on a level with the top of the cascades. The passage now turns sharp left, then right and its character changes totally.

[The name the Eaves is shown on the 2019 survey to the southwest of the main streamway but refers to the high level passages to the northeast.]

A long straight inclined rift with deep pools and small cascades gradually heightens. The mix of different limestones is obvious in this section. Also evident are layers of black cherty material. Along part of the passage the left-hand wall is hollow - hence the name Cavity Wall Passage. It ends at the First Watershoot, a steep slope down which the main stream rushes, to be joined by a tributary issuing from a wide crawl (Wet Rot Passage) on the right. This has been extended for about 15m. Traversing past Wet Rot Passage, a squeeze enters a 30m awkward crawl parallel to it, ending in a boulder choke. [Not on the 2019 survey.]

The First Watershoot is easily descended by first traversing to the right. At its foot, a neck-deep pool under a low roof ends at the brink of a drop to the Second Watershoot. Steeper than the first, this requires care under high water conditions when holds are hidden by spray. A rope can be looped around roof flakes to give assistance. Traversing to the right gains access to Dry Rot Passage. This passes a chamber on the right to end after 25m at a blockage. At the foot of the Second Watershoot, a deepening pool leads to sump 2.

The first section of the sump (2a) is 9m long and descends sharply for 3m passing below rotten flakes. It surfaces in a 10 m long inclined rift ending at sump 2b. After a muddy air-bell at 3m, this sump descends rapidly to the left in a rift lined with sharp flakes and eyeholes. Luckily, Sump 2 is easily by-passed.

Claonaite 3

Starting a few metres back from sump 2a, a rising traverse on the wall above reaches a wide low passage. Several crawls descend from the right. The first - Rising Damp - issues a small trickle of water. This was noticed to increase markedly when the cave was about to flood. Ahead leads through a clean-washed walking section to a large junction littered with breakdown including large blocks of thick flowstone. A sample gave ages ranging from 12,000 years at the base to 63,000 years at the top. To the right is Mud Passage (described below with East Block). Ahead is the direct route to sump 3. To the left 15m of small passage arrives at an enlarged shaft (Hole-in-the-Floor). This leads down to the main streamway between sumps 2 and 3. It is very tight with 30m of passage at its foot. Past the shaft, the passage descends to arrive above the deep pool of sump 3 with the direct route a short traverse away.

[On the 2019 survey a passage which appears below sump 3 extends across the line of Claonaite 3. At the time of writing there is no known connection. Further exploration of the high level passages above the lower end of sump 2 is needed to determine is a bypass to sump 3 can be found or engineered.]

East Block is a major series of high-level passages off Claonaite 3. Normally dry apart from a few trickles of water. To reach these passages, crawl over blocks and compacted mud up into Mud Passage from the breakdown chamber above sump 3. This soon becomes larger and after 40m, a crawl between boulders reaches a small, straw festooned grotto. A short bouldery slope on the left rises into a small chamber. The way ahead is blocked by calcited rocks, but below this is the Brandonburg Gate, a slot in the floor feeding into a short crawl that enters the side of a boulder-strewn fossil passage, the Birling Corridor.

To the right, a crawl of 20m reaches a pile of peat-stained boulders. The survey shows this point to lie only a few metres below the surface of the dry valley. There are a couple of small chambers off to one side and, further back, 20m of passage to the right ends at a step wide, bedding-plane passage that is too tight to descend.

Turning off from the Brandonburg Gate, a crawl up the Birling Corridor enters a large chamber mostly filled with boulders. Up to the left is a high rift with flowstone down the far wall and taped formations on the floor. Above the flowstone, a passage can be seen, but it is comprehensively blocked by calcite and boulders in both directions. Avoiding the taped areas, a lowering crawl under the north-east wall enters a wide passage almost filled with sand. After 20m, a higher boulder-floored section is reached. Ahead, wide crawls over collapsed beds alternate with large passage to arrive at a pronounced right-hand corner in the largest cave passage in Assynt. This may be aligned along the same fault line as sump 3. An aven in the roof can be climbed to a blockage, while a crawl down between boulders and roof enters a small chamber. From here, a lowering sandy crawl eventually becomes too tight for progress.

Turning right at the corner, past a taped area of mud pillars is a steep pile of breakdown leading 8m up to a dead end. To its right, there are several ways on.

A rock funnel in the floor taking a roof drip leads into Viaduct Series. At a T-junction, the right-hand route leads to a succession of small sand-filed chambers. To the left, the passage passes under several rock arches to enter a hemi-spherical breakdown chamber 10m in diameter. On the other side, the passage ends at a high, inclined cross-rift choked with unstable boulders above a choked hole in the floor.

Back in the main passage, a traverse past the rock funnel reaches an easy 4m climb down. Straight ahead the [passage closes down and enters a small pool-floored chamber where a small stream emerges in normal weather. Up to the left, a small aven (The Total Perspective Vortex) is easily climbed. The first exit from this enters Zaphod's Chamber where ahead, down a climb, lies Infinite Improbability Inlet.

Both the Viaduct Series and Infinite Improbability Inlet carry small streams. Footprints along the first wide sandy section of the main passage have disappeared over the winter periods. It is assumed that in wet weather this passage must carry a sizeable stream.

[It was intended in 2019 to resurvey the section of Uamh an Claonaite from the entrance to Sump 3 however time and weather prevented and subsequent events have so far prevented a return trip. The current 2019 survey, therefore shows the cave as it was surveyed between 1980 and 1997. This remains an adequate guide to the the cave passages but some sections are un-surveyed and the orientation of others may not be absolutely accurate.]

Sump 3 is a deep pool dropping 5-6 m to its lowest point before rising again to the passage beyond. While this might theoretically be a possible free dive no-one has attempted this (and it is not recommended). It was first passed by cave divers in 1985. The sump has a thick guideline following a steep descent down a boulder slope to -5m and an equally steep ascent. Its total length is 20m and it is roomy throughout but free-diving is not recommended.

Claonaite 4

The downstream end of sump 3 lies at the foot of a high choked aven. To the left, a thrutch enters an inclined wet crawl liberally endowed with sharp flakes. Up and to the left are several awkward crawls, penetrable for short distances. Ahead, the stream flows into a boulder pile at an area of collapse known as Faulty Towers. The aven above can be climbed through perched boulders for 10m. On the other side of the boulders, the stream is rejoined in an inclined rift ending abruptly after 15m at the short but tight sump 4.

Sump 4 is a short tight flooded squeeze but fortunately is can be bypassed.

Claonaite 5

Above sump 4, a hole in the overhanging wall leads to a complicated section - several high level slots, one of which to the left by-passes the sump. A narrow passage to the right (The Rock Machine That Turns you On) twists round vertically and horizontally and a slot at high level disappears into a tight crawl. This connects to the fossil streamway at the foot of the Palatial Abode of Edward Concretehead in Claonaite 7.

Back in Claonaite 5, below sump 4, the main stream is regained in a wide chamber where it cascades down into sump 5.

The route (keeping to the left of the passage) through Sump 5 is very shallow and presents no major problems. There is a slightly deeper channel to the right. The length of the sumped section varies from 5 to 15m depending on water conditions. In dry weather there is between 0.1 and 0.15 m air space between the water and the ceiling of the passage.

Claonaite 6

The exit from sump 5 is shallow pool. In dry weather, the way on is up a large slab of scalloped rock and water flows through a 0.2 m diameter eyehole through this slab. in wet weather, a small stream from the left flows over the top of the slab indicating an as yet undiscovered upper route from sump 4, The stream flows down a 1.5m high passage which degenerates after 3m into a wide, 2m long, scalloped crawl. The stream then drops over a shallow step and the roof rises. A further step leads to a 4m diameter chamber with a substantial shelf on the right. The stream flows into a wide sump pool (sump 6a) under a protruding roof. Nearer sump 5, in the roof, a step leads up to a crawl to the left. The main way on arrives after 5m at a wide low passage. This is partially filled with cherty material and can be seen to continue for 4-5m. Another climb, through a squeeze, on the right, near sump 5, leads to a crawl just below the roof which enters Treen Scene. Low crawling passage leads to larger passage at roof level descending to sump 6b where a rock is festooned with the remnants of dive lines. A 6m vertical climb from Treen Scene wriggling through a stablized boulder choke bypasses sump 6a and 6b and emerges into a depression in the main part of The Palatial Abode of Edward Concretehead .

The entry to sump 6a is low and the floor is deeply fretted. After 2 to 3 m of low passage, it develops into a more spacious canyon. This starts to widen under a flat roof and continues for another 5m to what appears to be a choke. Water from sump 6a flows into sump 6b but there is no obvious connection. Sump 6b is a 14m long dive gradually dropping to a depth of 3.5 m before rising vertically and emerging in a deep clear pool in the wide streamway of Claonaite 7. Free-diving is not recommended.

Claonaite 7 - Sump 6b to The Palatial Abode of Edward Concretehead

Beyond sump 6b is an extensive section of cave which can now be reached without diving from the Rana Hole entrance. Between 1985 and 2008, this section of cave could only be reached by following the streamway and diving the sumps (3, 5 and 6b) from the valley entrance. From 1985 onwards GSG members (and invited guests) spent 12 years digging over 300 tons of glacial till from Rana Hole - on the surface plateau above the cliffs at Creag nan Uamh (see Rana Hole). On 30 December 2007, a connection was made to the previously surveyed section of Uamh nan Claonaite*.

* A great deal of work was done by a huge number of diggers over the years and other cavers were present in Assynt but the final breakthrough following a week of work was by a group consisting of Tony Jarratt, Mark Brown, Sin Balometis, Paul Brock, Duncan Butler and Fraser Simpson. Amongst the other cavers around but not present for the actual breakthrough were Norman Flux, Ivan Young, Kate Janossy, Andy Peggie and Julian Walford.

Sump 6b emerges into deep pool in a wide inclined rift with an active streamway flowing north from the sump along the left-hand wall. A climb over scree to the left behind the sump rises into a walking height passage with a rock strewn floor which after 15m ends in a vertical squeeze. Ascending this reaches the lower end of Duelling Pianos (see below). To the right of this passage, two entrances lead to a 8m long low crawl over sand. A further low crawl over a sand and gravel floor to the left leads about 10m a small silt filled chamber with a single standing height central point (Nipple Chamber). At the base of the slightly sloping floor, to the right, another very low crawl leads to Prospects of Tribesti (shortened to just Tibesti), a 30m long, 15m wide chamber - 4m high but nearly filled with a dome of sand, silt and mud formations leaving about 1.2m to the ceiling. A passage to the left closes down after 2-3m. Beyond Tribesti, the passage continues southeast up a steep boulder slope southeast in the general direction of Claonaite2 but as yet there is no connection and there would be a long way to go. A dig mostly worked single-handedly by Derek Pettiglio, off the right hand side of the chamber heads south for about 15 m but is becoming harder and harder to dig.

Off the lower end of the Palatial Abode of Edward Concretehead, a passage leading from the downstream end of Sump 6b leads by several routes through a major boulder ruckle, past the bottom of the Palatial Abode into a short section of fossil stream passage ending in a blockage. This may have been a previous route of the streamway before it dropped to the level of Sump 6b.

In 2013?, Julian Walford and John Crae dug through the boulders at base of this blockage and found a dry connection to Treen Scene (between Sump 5 and Sump 6b) as in dry weather both Sump 4 and Sump 5 can be bypassed this allowed a dry connection to the downstream end of Sump 3, making Sump 3 now the only sump which cannot be bypassed.

Climbing the scree to the right behind sump 6b follows the inclined rift 20-30m into an area of large boulders and other breakdown material. There are at least four routes through this maze of boulders all leading to a 20m long fossil streamway where a wide low opening gives access to the lower part of a large breakdown chamber (The Palatial Abode of Edward Concrete-head - generally shortened to Concretehead). This is a large breakdown chamber with a naturally arched ceiling and floor made up of large piles of collapsed roof material. A second larger opening further along the fossil streamway also arrives in this chamber. At the furthest points along the fossil streamway radio-location indicates the closest point to sump 3 and a audible signal can be heard between here and sump 3. Within Concrete-head, a pile of large boulders rises 6-8m to near the ceiling. Beyond this high point, between taped off mud formations and huge hanging boulders, there is funnel of boulders dropping 3-4m into the boulder floor. At the base of this depression a vertical climb through a stabilized boulder choke drops 6m into Treen Scene. From here it is only a short crawl to Sump 5, Sump 6a or the upstream end of sump 6b. In dry conditions it is possible to negotiate sump 5 and follow the upstream passage as far as sump 3. Above the depression in the floor of Concrete-head two slots in the boulder pile lead to a side chamber with a scalloped limestone ceiling including lumps of cherty material, which has a sand and gravel floor with stratified deposits indicating this was once a substantial streamway. This blocked passage may head in the direction of Tribesti.

Above this side chamber, near the ceiling of Concrete-head, a low wide crawl leads to another large breakdown chamber (Duelling Pianos). This chamber is filled to near the sloping ceiling with massive boulders most of which are unstable. Climbing up and to the left leads to an area where the floor rises close to the roof. The roof in this area appears unstable and consists of more massive sheets of the same breakdown material seen on the floor. Down and to the right the ceiling is more stable with jumbles of breakdown in the floor with several voids. Near the far end of the chamber a vertical squeeze drops into the passage to the side of sump 6b.

Claonaite 7 - Sump 6b to Behl Aven

Returning to sump 6b, a substantial stream hugs the left wall of a large inclined rift. Following the water 15-20m reaches a massive boulder choke where the stream disappears into an impassable jumble of blocks. Up the slope to the right in a short side passage can be found a sporting vertical climb up through boulders to Behl Aven. An easier route leads up to the left of boulder choke where a scramble by the disappearing streamway leads up, round and over/through the boulder choke. A short side passage to the left (under the connecting passage to Rana) ends in an impassable choke with a voice connection to Flake Passage in Rana Hole. Beyond this inlet, a pile of massive boulders, some of which are unstable, rises into a wide inclined rift passage. Voids in the boulders drop back down to the streamway but all these passages are very short, the longest being a 2m squeeze ending in an impassable choke. The boulder pile (Raigmore Steps) rises further round to the right and back over the boulder choke into Behl Aven.

At the top of Raigmore steps, Belh Aven is a 8m wide, 20m long and 30m high shaft, the bottom part of which is filled by a boulder choke. This boulder pile has a number of holes at the sides dropping to the passages below. These are climbable but not really worth the effort unless you are feeling sporty. The boulder pile rises at roughly 45 degrees to the upper northeastern end of the chamber where the chamber narrows and is blocked by a boulder choke. [Although re-surveyed in 2019, the survey data was lost and Belh Aven needs to be surveyed again]. At the lower end of Belh Aven, one large flake forms a rock bridge which crosses above the streamway to a calcited niche in the west wall. Unnoticed for many years, a handline now gives enough traction to reach a high level crawl through to Flake Passage in Rana Hole*. From the boulder floor of Belh Aven, it is possible to clamber down the left-hand side of the rock bridge to the streamway, and further up the rock slope against the left-hand wall is the upper entry to the vertical climb. A rope has been rigged near the centre of the chamber to allow an ascent to the roof where a mass of jammed boulders leave no way on. Water from Rana Hole appears between these boulders at the west end producing a continuous rain in Belh Aven.

* This small inconspicuous side passage had been missed by the previous surveyors who had been restricted in time by the need to dive the sumps to gain access to the caves (and to carry all the gear up the hill which was required to do this). The existing handline is a bit worn and should be replaced.

Claonaite 7 - Streamway Passage from Raigmore Steps to Great Northern Time Machine

At the west end of Belh Aven at the bottom of Raigmore Steps, it is possible to clamber down through the boulders close to the point where the passage connects from sump 6. The streamway flows out from under the boulders at Raigmore Steps and follows the left wall of a large inclined rift for some way before becoming separated from the dry upper passage (Portobello Promenade). In dry weather it is possible to scramble along the edge of the stream without getting too wet but in wetter weather it is necessary to tramp through knee deep water or waist deep in place. Extreme wet weather usually prevents access this far. The lower wet passage named Memories of Tangelle, is more sporting (knee deep at least in dry weather) and eventually emerges near the entrance chamber (or Annex) to Great Northern Time Machine before dropping into the floor of the chamber towards sump 7.

Claonaite 7 - Raigmore Steps to Bear Bones

On the downstream side of Belh Aven/Raigmore Steps, above the stream passage, the wide inclined rift of the streamway opens out again. The stream hugging the left wall can be followed (see above) but boulders hide it from the easier northward route across the boulder strewn floor higher in the rift. The floor rises against the right-hand wall where three low crawls disappear eastward into parallel passages (Night on the Tiles I, II and III). These passages all lead to Night on the Tiles, a large boulder filled side chamber. Night on the Tiles I and II are steeply sloping and consist of loose boulders/breakdown making the climb up precarious. Night on the Tiles III is a more gradual sandy slope making a sharp right turn () at the top into a low rocky squeeze before emerging near the the top of the boulder pile. It is possible to traverse across the top of the boulders to meet passages I and II or to squeeze through between the boulders and the side of the chamber to follow a circuit around the further edge. At the eastern edge of the chamber, a small oxbow of passage devolves into breakdown disappearing into a rising bedding plane. There may be a way on but the breakdown is unstable. At the south end of the chamber a short passage rises and heads towards the top end of Belh Aven. A hole in the ceiling to the left opens into another tight bedding plane partly filled with unstable boulders.

The main passage, Portobello Promenade, continues 20-30m? parallel to the downstream streamway which remains audible as a dull roar on the left beyond a scatter of breakdown. The way on follows a eroded path along the right-hand side of a wide inclined rift. Eventually the streamway separates from the main passage and continues out of sight.

Portobello Promenade follows the now dry upper levels of the passage where several tempting dead-end passages of varying lengths head off to the right [I do not remember any such passages and they are not on the 2019 survey. Perhaps this is a reference to Night on the Tiles?].

Veering down slope to the left under some low roofed sections the main passage emerges into 10-15m? of stooping/crawling height passage with a sand and gravel floor. The route eventually (after about 50 m) veers right back up a sandy slope with a low rift to the left filled to near the ceiling with breakdown. A worn path between hazard tapes shows the route 10-15m? up past undisturbed sand and silt on the right to the upper level of the passage. Amongst the breakdown on the floor, the almost complete skeleton of a Brown bear was discovered by cave divers from the GSG in 1985. This was removed to the National Museum of Scotland in 2009 and dated to 26-28,000 BCE?.

Beyond the bear bones site passing under a solutional hole in the ceiling, there are two routes on. An upper passage (Legless Highway), continues at high level while a short scramble downslope leads to the continuation of Portobello Promenade towards Great Northern Time Machine.

Claonaite 7 - Legless Highway (total length approximately 100 m)

A 1.5m wide, 0.7m high passage leads 20-30m? along the top of an inclined rift which pinches out to nothing on the left but with a solid wall on the right. The sandy floor makes for an easy crawl but this may disturb more archaeological remains. The leg bone of a bear was found here in 20??. This was not part of the bear skeleton found previously. This bone (and other fragments) have also been removed and has been dated to 43,000 BCE. If more bones are discovered please leave them in-situ and tape them off following the instructions posted at the skeleton site.

The rift widens further along with a visible gap to the left over a wide bedding plane. A very tight flat out crawl is possible over the top of large slabs of collapsed ceiling but this is not required as this emerges back into Legless Highway 10-15m? further on where the passage takes a short dog-leg. Beyond this kink, the inclined rift becomes more vertical. 10-15m along this progressively tightening passage the floor turns from sandy silt into rocks and gravel and eventually ((after passing a few very tight inlets on the right, with potential for some further passage) a drop of 2m leads to the furthest extent on the cave. The passage terminates in a sand and gravel choke in a tight nearly vertical rift. This is perhaps diggable but requires a great deal of effort for little obvious reward. The end of the passage has been radio located to a point under the scree slope on the hillside below the Bone Caves at Creag nan Uamh.

Claonaite 7 - Bear Bones to Great Northern Time Machine

10 m to the left (west) and down slope from the skeleton site, under some low ceilings, a walking height section of passage, between sand beds on the left and rock wall on the right, leads 10-15m to a short rise emerging into a 5-6m high 2-3m wide lateral chamber with a sand silt floor. An aven rises into the rift above. A laminated sign on the floor next to a crawl under a wide arch claims you are now entering the Great Northern Time Machine.

Postponing the end of the trip by not entering the Great Northern Time Machine, it is possible to head back south in a intermediate passage between the stream way and the dry upper passage. this leads into a wide rock passage perched above the streamway. 20-25 m along this skirts the edge of a steep drop to the streamway where it is possible to scramble down and approach the Twin Falls of Jabaroo and the descent to sump7. However continuing at high level, the wide rocky passage apparently ends at a plateau overlooking a steepish descent to the streamway. It is however possible to climb down here and follow the streamway either upstream to Belh Aven or downstream to the Twin Falls of Jabaroo.

The Twin Falls of Jabaroo disappear into a narrow rift between the west wall of the cave and some very large rock slabs (see below), but it is also possible to scramble up the steep rock slope to a passage connecting to the lower level of the Great Northern Time Machine.

Claonaite 7 - Great Northern Time Machine

The main chamber of Great Northern Time Machine is over 50m wide and 70m long rising to a height of 30m floor to ceiling Despite claims to longer and wider chambers this still has the largest volume of any inland cave in Scotland*. The upper entrance, from Portobello Promenade, emerges under a low arch onto a platform of sand and silt, looking out over a steep slope down to the floor of the chamber. At the base of the slope several calcited mud formations have been taped off. The chamber contains many interesting features and it is possible to see them without crossing the hazard tapes which are there to protect delicate features and areas which are being studied by various experts. Please stay within the safe pathways.

* There are bigger chambers in some sea caves in the Shetland Isles and longer but lower chambers elsewhere in this system but this is still the largest overall volume inland.

Following the high ground and stepping round the very large boulder perched at the top of the mud bank reaches a sloping debris field near the top of the cave. A protrusion of the rock wall splits the upper part of the cave into two wings (the grotto has been tentatively located some 8-10 m below Reindeer Cave.).

In the left wing, overlooking the mud slope (becoming scree to the north), the cave comes to a halt at a debris slope where there are some voids but no obvious way on (radio-located to 5 m beyond the cliff face at Creag nan Uamh). Low on the wall of the cave, to the right of this, is a small slot where a short low crawl emerges into a small grotto where seepage from above has formed a shallow mud pool. A narrow slot extends to the right but quickly narrows to nothing.

In the right hand wing of the cave, the debris slope is covered by a thin layer of calcite. Seepage from above produces a trickle of water down the side wall and flowstone down the wall and across the floor. There is never enough water to produce a stream and the trickle across the floor disappears into the sand and gravel. There is no obvious water flowing out of this area. At the top of this wing the mud floor slopes back down before disappearing into a small slot where a flat out crawl leads down 10-15m of passage before the way is blocked by sand and gravel. This passage contains little of interest but may be heading parallel to the wall of the cave back round towards the end of Legless Highway.

Returning to the floor of the chamber, working round to the left leads back to the Annex and the route to sumps 7 & 8. Following the left hand wall of GNTM leads to an area of larger boulders at the foot of the debris slope. Where the debris slope starts to rise, a crawl over large boulders leads into a low boulder filled side passage (10 x 2.5m) parallel to the main chamber. Beyond this up a squeeze to the left is Antler Chamber.

Antler Chamber is approximately 3-4m wide, 10-12m long, level gravel floor mounded in the middle with a talus slope of glacial debris at the right hand end. The concreted gravel floor is liberally sprinkled with animal bones, the largest and most obvious of which were removed in 2011.

Off the far side of Antler chamber, a low crawl disappears gently downwards under the large slab on which the bear skull was found perched, into a short (2-3m) passage, parallel to the wall of the chamber above. 2m further up the side wall, a rift leads into another parallel passage. A crawl over loose boulders leads to a 2.5m drop down a fallen slab of ceiling material and a squeeze under another slab emerging into a 8-10m long standing-height passage (sloping at about 60 degrees between the ceiling and more fallen slabs). The floor of this passage is very loose and has many voids dropping up to 2m into loose debris. The end of the passage is marked by a solid wall of highly stratified rock. To the left, a scramble down about 2m to a loose boulder choke reaches another small chamber 4 m by 2 m mostly within the boulder choke below the chamber above. The base of this chamber also has many voids (and a strong draught suggests it may be the top of a boulder choke heading down towards Otter Hole). This chamber and the chamber above very unstable.

Claonaite 7 - The Twin Falls of Jabaroo, at the bottom of a deep rocky depression off the southern end of Great Northern Time Machine, drop into a narrow rift. In dry weather it is possible to traverse across the top of the falls into a narrow queeze along the top of the rift. In the past it was necessary to descend the falls to the short passage leading to sump 7., but it is now possible to remain high in the rift (about 25 m below the floor of Great Northern Time Machine) and to locate a tight squeeze through to Claonaite 8.

The streamway in Sump 7 drops about 1.5 m into a tight passage for about 10 m before rising to emerge in another tight rift . Above, a climb rises to a 20m long chamber with a rock pile below an 10 m aven rising towards the floor of Great Northern Time Machine.

Claonaite 8 - A 20-30 m passage between sumps 7 and 8 and the upper chamber mentioned above.

Sump 8 begins as a low shallow pool but drops at the north end into a 2m deep 20-30 m long sumped passage. About 20 m along a flooded passage rises into a small air space with a boulder choke above. The flooded passage below continues 2-3 m before becoming too tight.

Paleontology - An almost complete skeleton of a bear that may have died 11,000 years ago* has been recovered [c. 2008] from a cave in the Scottish Highlands. The first pieces of bone were found in 1995 by cavers exploring a network of caves at Inchnadamph in Sutherland. But it was only recently that caving club, Grampian Speleological Group, reached some of the final fragments. The National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh will try to establish if it was a brown or polar bear. The BBC Scotland News website reported in March of fresh studies being carried out on the skull of a bear found in the same caves system in 1927. Genetics experts at Trinity College in Dublin have been running tests on its DNA. Cave divers spent 12 years wriggling through narrow spaces and moving soil to unblock entrances in their effort to recover all that they could of the more recent discovery. The Edinburgh-based club's Ivan Young said: "It's been a long period of hard work and intense effort, but we are pleased to report that we have been successful in removing the bear bones from the chamber called Uamh an Claonaite. He added: "We have recovered all visible bone material and several bones partially covered in fine sediment and rock breakdown from the roof of the passage."

The remains found include the skull, the second lower mandible, fragments of upper mandible, vertebrae, ribs, most of the long bones, the main elements making up the pelvis, and several elements from the feet."

Mr [Ivan] Young said: "All in all, probably around 70 to 80% of the animal remains." Dr Andrew Kitchener said: "The bones are now at our conservation centre at National Museums collection centre, Edinburgh, where our first priority is to preserve and stabilise them, as they are relatively fragile. "After that we plan to take this exciting discovery a step further by radiocarbon dating them to discover when the bear died. "We also need to decide if they belonged to a polar bear or a brown bear, which wasn't possible from the lower mandible we already have. [BBC News, 28 July 2008]

* The Bear bones from this skeleton have since been dated to 27,800 years BP (25,800 BC). Other bear bones in the cave have been dated to 11,500 BC and to 46,400 BC.

During the archaeological (paleological) collection of the Bear skeleton from the site near the entrance to Legless Highway (between the initial collection and the final checks of the site), a tourist trip to Great Northern Time Machine lead by Bob Mehew reported finding an antler sticking out of the floor of a side chamber. The group of cavers doing the final checks of the bear skeleton site therefore investigated this latest find in what was dubbed Antler Chamber. The antler was located and recorded as were various other scattered bones including a bear humerus, a horses jaw bone and an excellently preserved brown bear skull. A separate trip was arranged in order to properly record all these surface finds. The bear skull was not dated but it is assumed to be from the same animal as the humerus which was dated to 11,500 BC.

Geology - During 2018? the BCA were investigating the formation of cryogenic crystals. One possible group of such crystals was identified in 2B's Chamber. [Herald, 28 July 2008]

The majority of the caves in the area are small and associated with active streamways, but all the larger cave systems (Cnoc nan Uamh, AlIt nan Uamh and Uamh an Claonaite) have sections of high level, formerly

phreatic passages, many of which are choked with largely fine-grained sediment deposits.

In the Assynt caves, the sub-division of fine-grained sediments into modern flood deposits and relict fine deposits is based on both geomorphic evidence and colour of the sediments. Flood deposits are not found in the high-level phreatic passages of the larger cave systems, being restricted to those parts of a cave above the level of the active stream ways where quiet-water conditions exist when backing-up of waters occurs on flooding. Commonly they are medium brown, or deep brown, in colour and laminated, possessing sedimentary structures indicative of a unidirectional water flow (e.g. ripples and small-scale cross-bedding). The relict fine deposits are paler in colour (Munsell colours of 10YR 5/ 4 and 10YR 6/3 being most commonly recorded) and occupy many of the large high-level passages that are not prone to modern flooding. In some cases, these large passages are filled to the roof with these deposits (e.g. Reindeer Cave on the Creag nan Uamh, the East Block in Uamh an Claonaite and Rabbit Warren in the Cnoc nan Uamh cave system) and in other locations there is evidence that passageways formerly contained much more of these deposits than they do at present (e.g. Oxford Street in Alit nan Uamh Stream Cave). Only the sediments studied in the section near to the Stream Chamber and those in Landslip Chamber, both in Uamh an Tartair (TraligiIl), were clearly laminated; all other sections examined lacked signs of bedding, but a progressively drying out of these quite friable silty-sands since their deposition may have removed any visual contrast between adjoining laminae, especially if differences in grain size and shape are minimal. It was hoped that further analysis of this latter group of rather enigmatic sediments would shed some light on their provenance and possible mode of deposition. [cave and karst science]

Uamh an Claonaite is the longest cave in Scotland and offers the most sporting caving. While not wishing to discourage those seeking enlightenment, it is worth re-emphasizing two points. Firstly take care when negotiating the entry choke - it has been known to move. Secondly flooding is a very real danger. Trips of any length especially into the East Block, where there is little indication of water flow, are unwise if flooding is possible. Sump 3 and sump 6b remain impassable except to cave divers and the other sumps and bypasses fill rapidly in wet weather. Loch an Claonaite does act as a buffer so sudden flood pulses are unlikely, but likewise once levels are high they will take much longer to fall.

Discovered by the Kendal Caving Club (1966), extended by the Cave Diving Group (1975) and the Grampian Speleological Group (1979/80).

Alternate Names: Uamh an Claonaite, Rana - Claonaite

Notes: An Claonaite - applies to a large hollow, or flat moorland ground Situate between Beinn an Fhuarain and Creag Liath. Sig: [Signification]:- ''The bending or inclining.'' [Scotland's Places]

Uamh an Claonaite is translated as Cave of the Sloping Rock, supposedly for the sloping rock above its entrance but the association with the name Claonaite goes back to at least the 18th century with the plateau between ? and ? being called 'An Claonaite' or 'The Sloping Place', a wide glacial hanging valley (the floor of which slopes from ? in the west? to the Claonaite valley in the middle then rising again to the western slopes of Breabeg). The name by the early 19th century had been connected with the smallish large pond or small loch in the valley named Lochan Claonaite on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps.

The altitude given (343 m) is for the entrance to the upper part of the system in the Claonaite valley. The Rana Hole entrance on the plateau west of the valley is higher (355 m). The current lowest point is sump 8 below the Great Northern Time Machine although, there is the possibility of a future connection to Otter Hole.

The longest known cave system in Scotland - this statistic is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future as Uamh an Claonaite (at 3-4 km) is significantly larger than any other cave system in Scotland and is in the most promising location for larger caves. The addition of the (? m) section of cave passage, from Rana Hole to Belh Aven in 2008, added a large newly discovered section of cave system to what was already the longest cave system in Scotland.

Archaeology (human remains and artefacts, c. 700 AD and c. 26,000 BC animal bones) associated with the Bone Caves at Creag nan Uamh (the cliff above the Claonaite system). Animal bones discovered in several locations in Uamh nan Claonaite include a nearly complete bear skeleton (c. 26,000 BC) older separate bear bones (c. 41,000 BC), a bear skull (c. 11,000 BC), deer antlers and a horse's jaw bone (as yet undated), all removed to the National Museum of Scotland.

See also Rana Hole.

Hydrographic Feeds: Lochan Claonaite

Hydrographic Resurgences: Allt nan Uamh

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This entry was last updated: 2021-04-19 17:47:37

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