Set within the Balnuaran of Clava, a beautiful wooded area, the ancient Clava Cairns are a group of Bronze Age cairns and standing stones near Inverness. They are about 4,000 years old, so this burial ground one of the oldest well-preserved sites in Scotland.
Three ancient cairns make up the oldest part of the cemetery, dating from around 2000 BC. A circle of standing stones surrounds each one. They run in a line, north-east to south-west. The two outer structures are Passage Graves. This is because they each have an entrance passage into the inner chamber, which is aligned to the south west. The central cairn is a Ring Cairn, as it has no entrance.
The layout of the cairns suggests a link with the midwinter sun, which sets in the south west. The tallest stone faces in this direction. Aligning stones with the rising and setting of the sun was an important practice in ancient Scotland and Britain. It can be seen in many other monuments, including the famous Stonehenge in Salisbury, England.
Only a few bodies would have been placed here. And although we don’t know who was buried within these cairns, historians believe they would have been significant people, such as important leaders.
Around 1000 BC, another group of people found and used the cemetery. They re-used the existing cairns and built an additional three monuments, including a kerb ring cairn.
This spectacular site of Scottish history has become vastly more popular with tourists since the recent release of the Outlander books and TV series. The Clava Cairns are said to have inspired the fictitious Craigh na Dun standing stones, which send the main character, Claire, back in time. You’ll now find it on the itinerary for Outlander Day Trips and experiences, with the iconic split stone becoming a popular selfie spot.