Just east of Inverness and not far from the Culloden Battlefield lies the Balnuaran of Clava, more commonly known as the Clava Cairns. This Bronze Age site dates to around 2000 BCE. No one really knows how these sites were used, but from the care and precision used in building them, they must have been significant to the people who created them. These cairns were also built in England and Ireland, but Scotland has the most. According to Wikipedia, “there are about 50 cairns of this type in an area round about Inverness. Clava Cairn is actually a type of cairn named for the Balnuaran of Clava site.”
Please scroll to the end of the post to see the image gallery!
We were rapidly approaching the end of our time in Inverness and still had this site on our must-see list, so Wendy talked to a cab driver, and he quoted us a reasonable flat fee for a round trip to the Clava Cairns. The Clava Cairns are free to visit and open year-round, so that helped to offset the splurge on cab fare. It was raining but slowed to a drizzle, and then stopped by the time we arrived. I was so excited to be there that I jumped out of the cab and semi-vaulted over a locked gate to get inside. An Australian gentleman watched and remarked, “Impressive, but this one is open” while gesturing to another gate a couple of feet away. I got points for enthusiasm :-).
If you are an Outlander fan, these stones are widely said to be the inspiration for Diana Gabaldon’s version of the standing stones at Craigh na Dun. It is true that there’s a split stone here. We tried it out but had no luck with time travel, although later that evening there may have been a bit of a nip, followed by some Outlander intro-inspired druidic dancing… “sing me a song of a lass who is gone…”. In all fairness to Wendy, it was the night before our Isle of Skye tour (that she couldn’t get off her mind), so it was appropriate to break into a druidic dance while singing, “over the sea to Skye” (in the Royal Highland Hotel’s public ladies restroom).
What first struck me was the size of the site. I had no idea that it would be so vast. Here’s a video with a birds-eye view that will help give some perspective.
My next reactions were awe and reverence at walking about in a place where people, possibly my ancestors, lived and worked and practiced their beliefs more than 4,000 years ago. Who built these? For what purpose? Why did they stop using them?
There are three circular cairns, aligned in a Northeast to Southwest direction. The cairns on each end are known as the passage grave type, with a passageway leading to a central room.
The cairn in the center, known as a ring cairn, also has a circular center room, but no open passageway into it. One theory I’d heard is that this may have been used to contain a funeral pyre. The central ring cairn also has stone pathways radiating out to some of the more massive stones. The standing stones are arranged in rings around the cairns, with the largest facing the entrances and gradually getting smaller going around to the opposite side.
We’re going back to Scotland in the spring (2019) and agree we need to spend more time here. The cabbie was lovely, but I felt the clock ticking the whole time we were walking around. I’m hoping for the impossible next time; with better weather and fewer other folks wandering around the site. That would help to take better photos to post here. I don’t mind the mists or rain, but it does make photography more challenging :-).
We’ll post again after our next visit. I can’t wait!
Image Gallery for Balnuaran of Clava, the Clava Cairns
Clava Cairns and Standing Stones near Inverness, Scotland. Ancient standing stones and burial chambers dated to 2000 BCE.