Frozen meltwater in a depression. Photograph taken by myself.Raven and I; cooperative selfie.Clava Cairns is specifically ‘Balnuaran of Clava’, as there are other groups of cairns known as ‘Clava Cairns’. There’s also a ruined chapel and another cairn at the far end of road, which I have visited before in the past, but didn’t visit that day. Nearby there are two other cairns in an overgrown field across the road from the enclave run by Historic Scotland, and also a standing stone in a field that sometimes has I think cows in it. Either way, the other two monuments and the standing stone are not open to the public as monuments, and while there is some freedom to walk in Scotland, these fields often have livestock, so going in them could cause a problem (Highland Cattle/Heilan’ Coos are very cute but they are large animals with big horns! Be considerate of cattle and farmers if visiting.The setting sun makes for a beautiful light over the cairns.
The enclave around the cairns is of old trees, planted between 1870 and 1871 by the land-owner at the time, who had the Romantic notion of the cairns being a ‘Druidic temple’ so wanted to plant it into a ‘Druid Grove’ – I think there are a few Neo-Pagans (Celtic, Druidic and otherwise) who are quite grateful for that, because it really does give the site a beautiful atmosphere of being encapsulated by nature, something simultaneously apart from the world and deeply within it. I’m certainly neither the first nor the best photographer to take advantage of the late afternoon light streaming between the branches and trunks of the trees, and I felt that the melt-water and ice from where the snow had been defrosting certainly did something to make that extra-special.
The far cairn is the smallest full cairn other than the kerb cairn. There used to be an infographic explaining the sunset alignment at the cairns, but I can’t remember if it’s still there, and if it was, it was buried under snow. I think the far corner cairn has a cup-mark in a stone within it, and was re-used as a columbarium around a thousand years after they were made, in approximately 1,000BCE. It was excavated in Victorian times, but it wasn’t excavated with the modern techniques of archaeology, and a lot of data was missed, lost, or destroyed. I don’t know if they disinterred any remains, and if so, what happened to the person who was buried there, but from what I gather, the cairn was the victim of overenthusiastic dilettante archaeology in the 1870s.The far cairn, aligned with the sunset. Photo by myself.In South East England, where I grew up, there was a theory relating the placement of barrows to either be prominent on the brows of hills, or to be near rivers, and while I think the builders of the cairns at Clava may have been culturally different, the cairns are hardly on a hilltop, but they are in a valley with the River Nairn flowing through – but I’m not an archaeologist (yet… I’m doing my second undergraduate degree part-time, studying joint History & Archaeology), and it is something I would have to read up on. There’s been some interesting papers on the placement of chambered cairns on the Isles, but I don’t know about the mainland. Definitely something I need to look into. Frosty ground. Photograph by Raven.The Cairns are very popular in recent years due to the success of the show ‘Outlander’, as apparently there is some connection to the series. I haven’t watched much of it, and the opening scene with early 20thC ‘Druids’ was filmed on a set on a hillock with foam stones, and Clava Cairns is apparently not the site mentioned in the books (a better candidate for that would be the stones that remain of the cairn at Dunain, which I mentioned in my previous blog entry about Ostara), so I’m not sure what the exact connection is, but it’s something to do with magical standing stones as part of the time-travel in the story, from what I gather. They’ve actually become too popular, and have been damaged by people climbing on the stones, and on the cairns, dislodging parts of the rock walls of the cairns. Large coaches and heavy traffic have also caused an access issue for the garage that runs recovery/road-side assistance from a little further down the road – and therefore for the clients they were off to rescue from mechanical trouble. If visiting during busy season, I would suggest parking elsewhere and walking down, as it is a pretty and pleasant walk (there are also several B&Bs, chalets, etc. nearby for accommodation.).A rather rectangular stone. Photo taken by myself.Raven. Photo by me.The ring cairn was buried under snow, as was a stone with cup-marks tooled into it. When we got to the far end of the cairns, a tour-bus arrived with a medium group of tourist, and the peace of the place felt broken, so we walked off to get a better look at the viaduct instead. I must go back there again this year, and take photographs in different weather and seasons. I follow #ClavaCairns on Instagram, and a lot of beautiful photographs turn up in that hashtag, which is quite inspiring. Hopefully I’ll be able to afford a new camera soon, and thus able to work on bettering my photography. For now, I am doing my best with my smartphone and some basic editing software.
Snow in the dying light; photograph by Raven
We made a tiny snowman made from two snowballs with twigs for arms.