The Sculptor's Cave

Written by Chris Thornton | 19th of March 2024
Sculptor's Cave Covesea

Moray is packed with history, from Elgin's Historic Cathedral to the picturesque railway viaduct of Cullen, but have you ever heard of the Sculptor's Cave?

Tucked away near the coastal town of Lossiemouth, the Sculptor's Cave is a site that is as enigmatic as it is rich in history. This seemingly unassuming natural formation harbours an extraordinary past, inviting curious minds to delve into its depths and uncover the secrets carved on its ancient walls.

The allure of the cave lies not just in its physical attributes but also in the layers of human history it has witnessed. From the remnants of the prehistoric era to mysterious ritualistic activities, the Sculptor's Cave serves as a time capsule, offering a window into the lives of the people who have traversed its shadowy interiors over the millennia.

What is the Sculptor's Cave?

The "Sculptor's Cave" is an archaeological site within a sandstone cave in northeastern Scotland, near Lossiemouth in Moray. It's named "The Sculptor's Cave" due to the Pictish carvings etched on the walls near its entrance walls. These carvings, dating from the 6th or 7th century, come in various shapes, including fish, crescent and V-rod, pentacle, triple oval, step, rectangle, disc and rectangle, flower, and mirror patterns. While some of these designs are simple, others are quite sophisticated.

Sculptor's Cave entrance.
The main entrance to the cave. The Pictish Carvings are on the wall left of the entrance near the white sign.
Sculptors Cave signage
The Historic Scotland information board at the entrance.
The Pictish Carving at Sculptor's Cave. Pictish symbols.
The actual Pictish carvings are quite difficult to see in this image.
Late bronze age metalwork was found in this cave. Prehistoric society.
The murky interior of the Sculptor's Cave.
Human bones were discovered here over many excavations.
What other secrets does this mysterious cave hold?

The interior of the cave

The cave itself is quite large, measuring 20m in depth and 13.5m in width, with a 5.5m high roof. It features two parallel entrances, each 11m long and 2-3m wide. Positioned at the base of 30m high cliffs, the cave is mainly inaccessible at high tide.

Archaeological investigations at the site have dated its use to as far back as the Bronze Age, and it seems to have been used for burials and possibly other rituals. The nature of these rituals and the exact meaning of the symbols carved into the cave walls are still a matter of scientific debate, which adds to the intrigue and mystery of the site.

History of the Sculptor's Cave

Sculptor's Cave has a rich history of archaeological discoveries from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Medieval period. Excavations began between 1928 and 1930 by Sylvia Benton, and subsequent archaeological excavations and field visits each decade since have furthered our understanding of this ancient site.

Roman Iron Age

Numerous artefacts from different periods of the cave's use have been found, giving us a window into its past. From the Iron Age layers, fragments of crucibles, slag, ironwork, and even a possible furnace base were discovered, indicating that metallurgical work was being done in the cave during that time. Artefacts from the Late Bronze Age include pottery, worked bone, a swan's neck pin, and several bronze arm rings. These discoveries suggest that the cave was a repository for precious objects during this period.

Human remains

Human remains have also been found in large quantities from the Late Bronze Age layers, particularly those of children. These remains were brought to Sculptor's Cave from various parts of northern Scotland, the islands off the coast, and possibly even from Ireland. Some of these remains showed evidence of decapitation, with the heads possibly being mounted on poles as part of ritual practices or the mourning process of that society.

In addition to artefacts and human remains, Pictish carvings can be found on the walls of the cave's entrance passages. Until recently, studying these carvings in detail was challenging due to the cave's accessibility only during low tide. However, in 2017, a digital model of Sculptor's Cave was created by archaeologists from the University of Bradford. This allows researchers to study the cave virtually, independent of the tides.

Historic Environment Scotland

Although the cave seems a little remote, a Historic Scotland plaque is mounted near the cave entrance. This information board displays the symbols carved into the cave walls, making identifying them easier.

Covesea Caves Project

The Covesea Caves Project is an archaeological initiative focusing on the Covesea Caves (including the Sculptors Cave) located along the south shore of the Moray Firth. The project was established to investigate these caves, which are known to house numerous archaeological remains from various periods, particularly the Late Bronze Age and the Pictish period (c. 300-800 CE).

The project's primary aims include studying Late Bronze Age mortuary practices, examining the transformation of ritual sites from the Bronze Age to the Pictish period, and analysing the role of these caves in the broader context of Pictish society in the region.

The Covesea Caves Project is an interdisciplinary initiative that combines archaeological investigations with various scientific analyses and digital humanities approaches. It's a collaborative effort involving several institutions, led by Dr Lindsey Büster and Prof. Ian Armit from the University of York, in partnership with the University of Bradford and Historic Environment Scotland.

Sea stacks. Discovered evidence of iron age decapitation
An impressive two legged sea stack can be found near the Sculptor's Cave.
A two legged sea stack near Lossiemouth. Human bone.
The boys show the scale of this precarious-looking sea stack.

FAQs on the Sculptor's Cave

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the Sculptor's Cave.

How to get to the Sculptor's Cave

Visiting the cave can be a little challenging, and given that the cave itself is inaccessible at high tide, you will have to plan your trip at low tide to be able to reach it.

The cave can be found on the Moray Firth Coast, roughly halfway between Lossiemouth and Burghead.

From the B9040:

  1. From the layby on the B9040, a dirt track provides the route towards the coast. Roughly 500 metres in, the trail veers left, pointing towards Covesea Village's dwellings. Instead of following the turn, press on straight or slightly right, following the paths down to the seashore.

  2. Proceed left (westward) along the coast. Before you reach the Sculptor's Cave, you'll traverse three or four headlands, each presenting its own challenging terrain of slippery rocks. However, the serene beaches between these headlands offer a reprieve from the trek. Although a challenging walk, you are rewarded with breathtaking landscapes featuring several awe-inspiring caves, arches, and stacks carved by the relentless waves.

  3. Before the final headland, keep an eye out for a set of steps etched into the cliff during the Victorian era. This marks your route back, but continue your journey along the shore for now.

  4. After negotiating a long mile of coastline, the Sculptor's Cave emerges, its presence undeniable. Perched above the high tide line and nestled under towering cliffs, this cave boasts two entrances. First, the right entrance is partially concealed, while the left entrance is adorned with an informative board installed by Historic Environment Scotland, showcasing the Pictish carvings etched into the cave walls.

  5. Once you've had your fill exploring the cave, head back to the rock-carved steps. Time and erosion have made climbing to the first step somewhat challenging, but the installed metal stakes provide assistance. From here, a steep but manageable path leads you up to the main coastal trail. Follow the trail left (eastward) to get back to Covesea Village, marking the end of your journey.

From Lossiemouth West Beach:

It's possible to walk from Lossiemouth West Beach to the cave, about a 3km / 1.8m walk.

  1. Starting from Lossiemouth West Beach, continue along the beach westwards.

  2. The sandy beaches will give way to a rugged coastal path.

  3. Below the path, until you arrive at the cave, it should be very noticeable.

  4. Again be aware of high tide.

Seabirds sign on the Moray Coastal Trail.
A long forgotten information board in the shape of a bird on the route to the cave.
Sea cave with impressive erosion formations.
Another cave formed by coastal erosion.
The ruggest coastline of Northeast Scotland
Another of the many interesting coastal features near the cave.
Rock layers are clearly visible.
A geologist's dream.
Enormous cave near the Sculptor's Cave.
Spot the boys in this image to see how big this cave really is.

What are the symbols on the sculptor's cave walls?

There are a variety of symbols and shapes, thought to be a salmon, crescent, v-rod, rectangular symbols and stylised representations of flowers.

Is it possible to access the cave/beach from the Covesea Viewpoint?

No, the cliffs are relatively high between the viewpoint at the beach; it's best to follow the coastal track east from the viewpoint, then once down at the beach, come back west along the coast to reach the cave.

Is there disabled access to the Sculptor's Cave?

Sadly not; the path is quite treacherous even for a non-disabled person.

Is it safe to bring the kids to the Sculptor's Cave?

Generally, yes, but the path is difficult, and there are sheer cliffs. Kids can go with care - they will love the extreme coastline features and the spooky cave entrance. The cafe "Twenty Nineteen" can be found to the east, just past the golf course; they offer lovely children's platters with sandwiches and cakes.

Impressive cliffs line the coast near the caves.
Some impressive geology near the Sculptor's Cave.

What wildlife can be seen near the Sculptor's Cave?

Ottersseals and dolphins can all be seen from the beach. There are also many varieties of seabirds; no monsters live in the cave!

Seabirds find a home in the crevices.
The seabirds love to nest in the craggy cliffs.

What else can be seen in the vicinity of the Sculptor's Cave?

Here are my top picks:

  1. Lossiemouth West Beach is a stunning stretch of coastline; why not walk into town, grab a Miele's Icecream, and then cross the new Lossie Bridge to East Beach, which is equally beautiful?

  2. Duffus Castle - A ruined "motte and bailey" castle that has partially slipped down the hillside. A fantastic ruin to explore with wide open areas and internal sections, the car park has a dedicated coffee hut too! Duffus Castle is a must-see while in the area.

  3. Further afield, Elgin Cathedral, Elgin Museum (which contains artefacts from the Sculptor's Cave) and Spynie Palace are all worth your time.

Abandoned creel.
A fishing creel found near the cave.

Key information on the Sculptor's Cave

  • The Sculptor's Cave is a sandstone cave between Lossiemouth and Burghead on the Moray Coast.

  • The cave is known for its Pictish wall carvings and archaeological discoveries, including 1800 human bones.

  • The cave can only be accessed at low tide.

  • The walk can be challenging to get to the cave, but easier returning due to the steps only being visible from the shore.

  • No disabled access but safe for kids with care.

  • The cave is a scheduled ancient monument, and it is highly illegal to damage it.

Moray Firth Coast
A wide-angle view of this impressive stretch of coastline.


The Sculptor's Cave is a fascinating place to visit for the more adventurous tourist in north east Scotland; not only can you view this fantastic archaeological cave with ancient carvings, but the coastline is also packed with impressive geological features too.

Image credit: Rory Simpson.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

Claim Your Free 6 Day Travel Itinerary:

Simply enter your email and we'll send it your way!

Free Scotland travel itinerary

Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?