In my overview post I talked about my first trip to the British Islands and how I chose to visit quite a few ancient sites. Unfortunately, with so many people traveling and with such limited time and so many things to do and see, we only were able to fit one place in, Clava Cairns. But it is a great place to visit!
The Clava Cairns, aka the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Bulnuaran of Clava, are a complex of chamber tombs, circle cairn and kerb cairns that are in such good condition to give their name, “Clava Cairn”, to the type of cairn that is found around Inverness. There are actually several other features from the same time as part of the complex, including other cairns, but the main group of 2 chamber tombs and a circular cairn with the small kerb are the main attraction.
The two chamber tombs are now open to the sky. The are defined by an inner and outer ring of stones to hold the “rubble fill” in place. These are on a small platform, which would work to make sure there was no spreading, and surrounded by a circle of standing stones. There is some rock art on a few of the stones of the type found in Mesolithic sites.
Despite all of the ancient pieces, the Clava Cairns were built in a short period of time more recently than expected. OK, “recent” is early Bronze Age, about 4000 years ago, but people had thought Neolithic, 5000 years ago. It is possible some of the components, such as the rock art, came from older sites. What is interesting is that many of the symbols from 3000 BC were still used a thousand years later when Clava Cairns were built.
And they were used, off and on, for more than a thousand years after they were built. In fact, there is an early Christian chapel on the site (a few hundred yards/meters from the cairns featured here), showing that it is possible the people of the area may have kept the idea of this being a sacred site up until, and possibly beyond, the time that they began following the “new” Christian religion some 1500 years ago.
The entrances to the two chamber tombs line up to the setting winter solstice sun. The one in the northeast also lines up, more or less, with the one in the southwest. Some people say the standing stones also mark other solar and lunar events, but, although there is a lot of evidence for this, not all experts agree.
At first glance the site looks pretty boring – piles of uniformly gray stones and gray flat stones in the circle, but the more you look, the more varied it is. Back in the day, the southwest sides would have been dark red while the east sides would have been very light colored and covered in quartz. People suspect that the west end would glow red at the setting sun of the winter solstice while the east end would flare up with light at the rising sun on the summer solstice.
On a similar subject, there is a very tall stone that seems to attract most people’s attention. This place was used, with a name change, in the books and series Outlander, and the stone in that series has a special significance.
In reality, it is perhaps the most boring stone in any of the circles.
There is one stone that, to me, seemed to be the focal point of all three cairns and has a very different profile from each (you can see it at the center of the photo at the top of the post). This was my favorite! I took a few photos of it early and then gravitated towards it before I left.
I also grew aware of at least one stone in each circle made from large red chunks.
And, look at this photo of my brother by a stone. The stone he is close to is like many of the others, but look at that other standing stone in the photo, the one to the left.
Do you notice anything? Look at the lines. See it? There is a very clear face on that stone! I drew the lines in and will share if people want to see, but I think seeing it naturally is better.
With all of the people and all of the noise (not just our group – at least 20 other people were there – it is a super popular place) I did not get the spiritual experience that Sue used to talk about from some ancient sites, and yet, in ways I did. It was not just dead stones. The past did seem to come to life. And not just for me. A few people in our group told me how much they enjoyed their time there and called it one of the highlights of the trip.
So if you ever do visit the Inverness area (it is only 6 miles from town and literally across a river from the Culloden Battlefield), you should stop in! It is magical…
Here are some photos from our visit, including those used above. If you click a photo, you can enlarge it and go through them like a slideshow.
I hope you enjoyed! If you want to go back to the original post of this series, you can find it here.
(Side note – on one photo, one I actually used for a few clips, there is a strange ring of light in the tree branches. It is not on any other photo, so most likely not a smudge on the lens. What is it? A sun flare? Not sure. Odd…)