I visited the Clava Cairns with my mom in 2013. We started the day at Culloden, and found ourselves here in the afternoon. We were fortunate to have so many sunny days during our Highland excursion.
The Clava Cairns are a burial grounds from Scotland’s history, dating back 4000 years. There are three separate cairns at this spot, and they are all well preserved. There are three separate cairns—a pile of stones that often serves as a monument, as discussed on my Fun with Gaelic: Càrn entry—surrounding by standing stones.
It’s these cairns that are the oldest part of the site, again dating back to 2000 BC, and they are massive to behold. You can see from some of the pictures I’ve included just how big these ancient monuments are.
According to Visit Inverness/Loch Ness, two of the cairns are known as “Passage Graves”, as they have a space in the cairn to walk into the center. The central cairn is known as a Ring Cairn, as it has no entrance. It’s also believed that the layout of the cairns are aligned with the rising and setting of the midwinter sun, a common trait among many of the rock monuments of the ancient Celts.
It is unknown who was buried in these cairns, but it is believed that it would’ve been people of significance, likely important leaders. Given their size, I think that’s a pretty valid suggestions made by historians; monuments this massive would likely not have been made unless for someone considered great in their time.
There’s evidence that another group of people used this burial grounds as well, about 1000 years later in 1000BC, and also built an additional three monuments.
Prior to being a burial grounds, there’s evidence to show that a settlement would’ve lived on the grounds, but then was directly replaced with these cairns, possibly even repurposing some of the old establishment materials to build the cairns.
If Inverness and/or Culloden is on your list to see during your own trip to Scotland, it’s worth finding the Clava Cairns even for a short visit. It’s not too far from either of those destinations, and there’s some fascinating history here, dating back thousands of years.
Plus, if you’re an Outlander fan, it’s supposedly the Clava Cairns that inspired the book series, so it’s an opportunity to take a shot with some standing stones!
Friendly Reminder: though these are stones, they are relics of the past; do not mess with them, do not play with them, do not disrespect or disrupt them. Leave only footprints.