Wednesday, 2 April 2014

MacIains Cave

We've visited MacIains Cave twice before but, both times, the weather was grey.  The bay in which the cave lies is a dismal place, and the second time it rained so hard that no pictures could be taken so, on Monday, with the forecast fine, we decided to try again in the hope of obtaining some better photographs.

As the crow flies, the cave is about two kilometres northeast of Ockle, but is best approached by walking the Ockle to Gortenfern path and then dropping down to the coast.  The path is a glorious walk, as any one who has done it will know, but the last part of the approach to the cave is extremely steep.

This is the bay at the back of which the cave lies, looking roughly westwards with Ockle Point in the distance.  The cave's remoteness, the fact that, whichever direction one approaches it one cannot see it from the landward side, and its inaccessibility by sea, were the reasons why the last of Clan MacIain, expelled from their Ardnamurchan homelands by the Campbells early in the 17th century and turned to piracy, chose it as a secure refuge for their women and children if they were attacked.

This is the bay from the west.  It can't be seen, but the cave lies under that high, dark cliff to the right - one wonders whether the sun ever shines on it.

At some time in the 1620/30s the Campbells caught up with the MacIains.  History doesn't relate what happened to the men - perhaps they died fighting the Campbells, perhaps they were away raiding, perhaps they ran away, but whatever they did they left their dependents to the Campbells' mercy.

The cave is to the right.  It's eroded into ancient rock, Moine metamorphics aged at about a billion years. It's narrow, dank, and deep.

On the day the Campbells found the MacIain women, children and old people in the cave, mercy was in short supply.  The Campbells heaped brushwood and logs against the entrance, and set fire to them.

The story goes that Victorian archaeologists excavated the cave and found human bones, confirming the event.  Today there are still bones just inside the entrance, but I don't think they're human.

Now that we have pictures, I'm not terribly keen to go back.  It's a grim, cheerless place, in stark contrast to the rugged beauty all around and the stunning views out across the Minches to Rum, Eigg and Muck.


  1. Are you sure that's MacIains Cave? Because you've had a posting before ( and that entrance is different. I've been there twice in the last couple of years searching for the cave and the entrance you've photographed in 2009 is more to the east if I remembered well.

  2. Hi Sebastian - I'm as puzzled as you are over that 2009 picture. It doesn't appear to show the cave which I now believe is MacIains cave. I know that, after the 2009 expedition there, we went back a year or two later in terrible weather, and the cave we found then is the same one as appears in this latest blog. Certainly, the 'present' on wis the only one which has any depth. Jon