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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Prehistoric Scotland - Part 1 - Clava Cairns

N.E. Passage Cairn from east

On our recent trip to Scotland, I knew little of Scotland's prehistoric past. It was thrilling to visit this prehistoric burial site with standing stones, which is properly called the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Balnuaran of Clava.  It's beside a one-lane rural road not far from the Culloden Battlefield. Few people visited it while we were there, making it possible to admire the work that went into building the passage grave below.
S.W. Passage Cairn
 Both passage graves are no more than a metre or so in height, but when originally constructed the cairns are likely to have been around 3m or 10ft in height. But these weren't for mass buryings - only for one or two persons, most likely tribal chiefs. Archaeologist have discovered that under the rubble base of the grounds, there had been farming here; but then someone decided it was the perfect place for his grave. And that was that. This was about 4000 years ago. A couple of thousand years went by and then they were used once more.

There are three cairns, each one was surrounded by standing stones - as many as nine.
Not small standing stones, either, attested by Jay, though the perspective shrinks him.

The stone circle surrounding the South West Passage Grave has that small road going through it, leaving one stone marooned on the far side of the road and another forming part of the fence.

And, yes, the monument is aligned on the midwinter solstice. In recent years this phenomenon has been observed by covering the chamber and passage with tarpaulin. This showed that on a clear day the rays of the setting sun travel down the passage and divide the chamber in half.
A beam of intense light focuses on the back wall. The same effect would have been visible in the south-west cairn where the view is obstructed by a modern farmhouse. So, the Victorians, thinking this had been a druid place, planted trees to give it a wooded look. Which certainly does add to the atmosphere.

With woodland toadstools

What draws your attention toward the end of your walk-around is the split stone (or were two placed against each other originally and have slipped apart?

Who cannot resist having her picture taken between the stones?

When we drove away down that one-lane rural road, we didn't expect to encounter this monumental Victorian engineering feat - the Culloden Viaduct, opened in 1898 as part of the Inverness and Aviemore Direct Railway, built by the Highland Railway.  The 29 span viaduct crosses the wide valley of the River Nairn . At 1800 ft (549 m) in length, it is the longest masonry viaduct in Scotland. It wasn't in my Michelin Guide, so I guess that's part of the joy of traveling - discovering sites you didn' t expect.

1 comment:

  1. Powerful, Karen. Thinking about the history gives me chills. Great pictures.