Polchar Cave

Useful Information

Location: Sand of Udrigle. Laide, Wester Ross.
(57.865095, -5.5189671)
Open: No restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: A=3 m, L=20 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Steve Chadwick (1992): Poolewe to Gruinard, Selected Walks and Caves with Historical Narrative. p 13
John H. Dixon (1886): Gairloch in North-west Ross-shire its Records, Traditions, Inhabitants, And Natural History, Edinburgh, Co-operative Printing Company Limited 1886. gutenberg
Anon (2003): Slow Down in north west Scotland, p 15 Duncan Matheson was the last baby to be baptised there.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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Follow the road from Laide to Gruinard for about a mile, past the Sand House Self Catering Apartments on your right, and on a sharp bend in the road where it passes two houses. Just past this point a rise is topped and the road begins to go down to First Coast. There is a car park on the hill top and another 50 yards further on. Park in either one of these for the path begins between the two of them. A wooden stake with the word "CAVE" on it marks the path.

In order to bring the picture alive I can do no better than to quote direct from William Jolly as he writes in Dixon's "Guide to Gairloch":

"A footpath leads down (to the left)... and should be followed to the beach. There, one of the old caves has been enclosed by a wall and put under lock and key. It is regularly used as a chapel by the Free Church [following the disruption of the church in 1843], and numerous worshippers gather on Sabbath, and seated on the boulders that form the pews, listen to sacred words and sing Gaelic psalms ... Close to this is another... It is the home of an old women of seventy, and a girl her sole companion ... The fire is close by the door and the bed lies on the ground on the right. The old dame seemed as bright as the sunshine when we visited her this summer, and declared that though rough, the place was more comfortable than it looked .. her Gaelic bible her only literature, the wild rocks round, and the splash of the restless waves in her ear... But this is not the place to enter into her story".

William Jolly did not write about it for fear of getting embroiled in local politics. But it appears that the widow, Isabella MacKenzie of Gunn from Drumchork lived in one of them for several years with her daughter or granddaughter. In 1862 Meyrick Bankes applied for a court order to evict Isabella from the Polachar Cave and in the 1871 census she is shown as a pauper living at Sand. By the time of the 1881 census she was living in Achgarve and it is unclear where she went from there until 1892 when she was living in Dingwall and on the register of the poor. The sum of 1/6d was being paid from the parish of Gairloch to Dingwall on her behalf.

The cave has a 6 ft high drystone wall in front of the entrance with a doorway 4 ft wide. This enclosed the apron to the cave. The entrance is 15 ft high 20 ft wide and triangular in shape. There is a smooth hard flat floor and after 30 ft the roof lowers to enter a second chamber 8 ft high and about 10 ft long, this then enters another chamber about 3 ft high which goes back for 10 ft and ends in a low crawl which may be worth digging. Between the first and second chambers there is a stal flow on the wall [photograph] and the floor is very muddy at this point.

There are other small caves in the vicinity dotted along the coast, including a through cave, but nothing is as spectacular as this one.

Further along the coast towards Udrigle, between the grave yard and the jetty are a series of red sandstone cliffs about 30 ft high, which are very friable and they appear to be incapable of supporting a cave except for 2 small examples near the jetty. It is interesting to speculate whether in Mesolithic times these cliffs would have contained inhabited rock shelters.

reprinted from The New Caves of Scotland by Tony Oldham (sous presse). With kind permission.