Clava Cairns: A Bronze-Age Cemetery

The Balnuaran of Clava are some of the best preserved burial cairns dating back to the Bronze Age, three or four thousand years ago. The Clava cairns are located along the inner Moray Firth in the Scottish Highlands.
Walking into the site, you first notice the towering trees which were planted here during Victorian times.

Asma walking under old trees

Then you approach the first stone circle, a massive mound of rock, which defies comprehension. And so you circumambulate it trying to make sense out of this elaborate pile of boulders and rocks.

You find a passage way leading in, like a birth canal taking you inside the stone womb:

the way in B&W

And you look around you, wondering, touching the stones, imagining what might have happened here so long ago

Annette leaving stone circle

And suddenly, the stones light up:

the way in over saturated

Stone Womb

A narrow passage opens
into a perfect circle of stones;
boulders cradling smaller rocks,
arranged by skillful hands
for strength and form.
Stones, warmed only lightly
by lichen, moss and sun
and inquiring hands.
Stones, shaded by those tall trees
green, alive, and
equally silent.

Stony witness –
what did you see?
Who came here, praying, chanting?
Who was buried here
with honor?
Who mourned for them and how?
Was there joyous celebration, too?
A girl becoming a woman
blessing the soil with her first blood?
A boy becoming a man
drawing blood with the sharp edge of a sword?
Who gathered here the very moment
when the old year exhaled one last time
as a new year inhaled its first cold breath?

What can we learn from you?
If we spoke your language,
could we still be saved from

Warming the stones

About Beauty Along the Road

A blog about discovering beauty in all its ordinary and extraordinary manifestations.
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27 Responses to Clava Cairns: A Bronze-Age Cemetery

  1. Randee says:

    Wow, that is cool. I’d love to know the whole story.


  2. Loca Gringa says:

    Such a sense of awe and beauty! I felt that same sense on the steps of the Cathedral in Santo Domingo. It’s the oldest in the Americas. I wondered how many feet had climbed the stairs, how many baptisms, first communions, communions, weddings, and funerals passed through the gateway. How many and sought it for shelter during hurricanes or political attacks. I touched the stained glass, it was cold to the touch, and wondered the same, how many others had done the same over 500 years.


  3. Tish Farrell says:

    This is a splendid post. I love the stones ‘lighting up’. Can’t understand why these cairns did not feature on my prehistory course at Sheffield years ago, or may be they have only been unearthed relatively recently? Or maybe the course was too focused on the Wessex Bronze Age. The construction is fascinating and your photos are so good. And the poem reminds us indeed of their resonance through time.


    • Tish – these sites have been known for a long time. One of the owners of the site actually planted trees during Victorian times thinking romantically that it had been a druid temple (that’s kind of what I am thinking, too) and those trees are massive now and give the site even more ambiance. I was thinking this morning that I want to research these Bronze Age sites some more to better understand them. Thank you so much for your comment – always so much more meaningful than a “like.”


  4. Lovely words and photos, Annette! 🙂


  5. Tina schell says:

    Wow! Never heard of it and am so impressed with the lighting. Was it explained? Loved this post!


  6. ladysighs says:

    Often I look at stone monuments etc and just see the whole. Your poem and pictures make me wonder about the ordinary people that lived and wandered about there. Who were they? What did these stones mean to them? When did they lose their meaning? We can study and study and learn many things. But so much is left to the imagination.


  7. mpejovic says:

    Very interesting site, thanks for sharing. I can’t believe how many people and how much time it took to put all this together.


  8. Wow! What an amazing structure. It definitely makes you wonder . . .


  9. so glad you pointed me to this post…don’t know how I missed it….my annoyingly unreliable reader 🙂
    This is such a wonderful site, with a beautiful sense of presence….much has happened in and around these stones, placed by our ancestors. Originally cairns like this would have been covered with turf, and would have rolled themselves into the landscape as soft green mounds. Ancestor worship is thought to have prompted their construction, housing the air picked bones of previous members or leaders of the tribe. Walking down the passage into the womb of the earth…..wonderful stuff 🙂


  10. A lovely post with beautiful images!


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