Walk: Sculptor's Cave - dark Moray secrets

[Sculptor's Cave]

Severed heads on stakes and an underground pool full of Bronze Age treasure - it sounds a bit like the opening of an Indiana Jones film, not Scotland! "This cave on the Moray coast hides a ghoulish, 3,000-year-old secret", warns Richard Holloway in the BBC News article about Sculptor's Cave. This temple cave dedicated to dead children is hidden from the Hopeman to Lossiemouth leg of the Moray Coast Trail below tall cliffs, cut off at high tide and inaccessible from directly above. The BBC team reached the cave by boat, while excavators constructed scaffolding down the cliff face here to gain access. For ordinary visitors, it's possible to visit on foot if your arrival coincides with a falling tide. The cave itself is no more interesting than the several others that litter the coastline here, and the severed heads are now gone. Nevertheless, it's a highly atmospheric place if you know the back story. Especially if, as on our visit, someone's placed a skull on a low, table-like rock in the gloom to the rear of the cave... chilling. There's a clearer guide to reaching the cave at the bottom of this post, as a circular route taking in two possible access routes.

[Looking out from one of the tunnel-like, rock-cut arches on the approach to Sculptor's Cave]

Name: Walk: Sculptor's Cave - dark Moray secrets ★☆☆
Length: 4 km / 2 miles
Ascent: 50 metres
Points of interest: Sculptor's Cave; various other cliff architecture
Start / finish: Layby on the B9040 at the junction for Covesea Village, G.R.: NJ 189705 / wobbling table needed
Anything else? The interior of the cave is fairly light during daylight, but bring a torch to help make out the detail.

Route: Layby - Covesea Village - Sculptor's Cave via shoreline - Covesea Village via Victorian steps and Moray Coast Trail - start. Described in detail below.
Terrain: The shoreline outward journey is across slippery rocks (submerged at high tide), with some easier sections. Coast path is good for return, albeit with large rock-cut steps (hands required) to get up to it.
Wildlife today: Fleeting glimpse of an otter playing on the beach below Covesea Village.
Weather today: Very strong southerly wind at the exposed start, but sheltered on the beach. Sunny and warm.

[Sea stack on approach to the cave]

Step-by-step guide

Intro: The cave is correctly shown (and named) on 1:25000 scale OS maps at the back of a small cove at G.R.: NJ 175707. The difficulty comes in accessing the cove: sheer cliffs behind aren't scalable for ordinary mortals and the bay is cut off at high tide. We suggest approaching along the shore from Covesea, quickening the way back by using a set of rock-cut steps to access the cliff path, thereby shortening the section across slippery rocks. The steps are difficult to spot from above, so we only suggest returning by this route. 2.5 hours before low tide is about the earliest time you can set off from the start without later needing to wait to avoid getting your feet wet. Too much later and you'll risk getting stranded at the cave by the next rising tide. Continues below photo >>

[Steps used to ascend the cliff on return]

From the layby on the B9040, a dirt track gives easy walking towards the coast. After about 500 metres, where the track turns left towards the houses at Covesea Village, continue straight ahead or slightly right down intermittent paths to the shoreline: a lack of cliffs here make this easy.

Head left (west) along the shore. Depending on how you define headlands, there are about three or four to pass before reaching Sculptor's Cave, each involving tedious sections of slippery rocks to negotiate. Beach sections in between allow some respite. The scenery throughout is spectacular, with several impressive caves, arches and stacks cut by waves.

Before the last headland, look out for an set of steps (above) descending the low cliff, hewn directly from the rock during Victorian times. This is the suggested return route, but continue along the shore for now.

After a long mile of coastline, Sculptor's Cave is unmistakeable. Set above the high tide mark underneath higher cliffs (see first photo), the cave has two entrances. The right entrance is partially boarded up, while Historic Environment Scotland have added an information board at the left entrance, pointing out Pictish carvings on the cave walls.

When you've finished exploring the cave, return to the rock-cut steps you passed earlier. Erosion by the sea has made getting onto the first step tricky, but a couple of metal stakes driven into cracks help with this. Once here, a steepish path leads up to the main coast path with no difficulties. Turn left (east) to return to Covesea Village near the start.

[Looking back along the middle of the walk's shoreline section]


Route credit: Scotland off the beaten track

>> Little bit like this: Wemyss Caves

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