In the Cave of the Picts

Yesterday I packaged up a menagerie of instruments and rode on the train all the way to Elgin, and then out to the coast and down a pretty extreme scramble down the cliff and along over the rocks to the Sculptor’s Cave, on the shore of the Moray Firth. I had been asked to play music in the caves for recording by the European Music Archaeology Project.

One of the caves contains Pictish designs carved on the walls, so I prepared some early medieval repertory and as well as the Queen Mary harp, I took with me the two lyres – the replica Trossingen lyre with horsehair strings, and the early Irish lyre with iron, latten and silver strings and with the Iron Age lyre bridge from Uamh an Ard Achaidh on the Isle of Skye. Also I took the bowed lyre or jouhikko, and the trump or jews harp, and the tambourines, and both my horns – the short early medieval style end-blown horn and the long Bronze-Age style side-blown horn.

The site was beautiful; there was almost no view over to the Black Isle because of the haar, but the sun was shining, the gulls were loud and the archaeological team from Bradford were friendly and working hard on their trenches.

Unfortunately there were serious technical problems with the recording equipment and there were also clashes between access times and train times, forcing me to leave early before high tide cut the caves off, and so in the end I only managed to do a few short takes with the lyres, harp and big horn in one of the caves. Bill Taylor was there as well, and he did some takes in one of the other caves after I had left. All in all, it was fun to play in this venue, and wonderful to spend all day exploring and investigating this powerful and fascinating place.

2 thoughts on “In the Cave of the Picts”

  1. Hello, Simon. I think that this may take the prize for the quirkiest gig you have yet had. The site looks difficult to access. Are the caves above sea level, and dry for occupation? How intriguing! –Sue P

  2. The cave floors are a few meters above sea level, with big piles of grassy sandy earth in front of each cave. In the first picture the high tide would come right up to the base of the earth pile, and elsewhere up to the base of the cliffs, which prevents you from scrambling along the rocks from cave to cave and along to the ladder and path up the cliff. Yes all 3 caves are dry and sandy inside.

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