Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Just outside of the bustling Highland city of Inverness are the magical Clava Cairns, one of Scotland’s most famous burial monuments. As Outlander fans may be well aware, Clava Cairns is a prehistoric site similar to Stonehenge in England and has been featured on Scottish TV shows and movies. It’s a 4000-year-old piece of Scottish history that warrants a visit from any history buff on holiday.

The Clava Cairns are one of 50 “clava”-style cairns in Scotland and feature nearby standing stones and several other smaller monuments to enjoy. And since it’s so close to Inverness, you can fit it in, along with plenty of different city attractions, into a day of sightseeing!

From history to folklore and how to get to the Clava Cairns, we’ll be breaking down everything you need to know on your visit.

Clava Cairns History


The Clava Cairns are extremely old, dating back to the Bronze Age over 4000 years ago! The Clava Cairns are actually three separate cairns; two cairns have entrance passages that lead to their central chamber, but the central cairn is sealed shut. The burial cairns are theorised to have been the final resting place for important individuals like chiefs, with one or two people buried in each cairn—although the bodies from those times have long been cleared.

Outside the large cairns is a ring of standing stones, many of which have distinctive cup marks. This suggests that they may have been brought from other sites, as the cup marks are found in other nearby cairns like Corrimony Chambered Cairn. The Clava Cairns, however, are unique in the fact that they combine ring cairns, passage graves, kerb cairns, and stone circles all on-site.

While originally created during the Bronze Age, the Clava Cairn were used well after they were originally constructed. In fact, 1000 years afterwards, the Clava Cairns were still used as a place for new burials and likely made the site an extremely important place for Neolithic people.

Historic Scotland now manages the property.

Folklore of Clava Cairns

The existing cairns are surrounded by folklore and myths stemming from its unique construction. The three cairns you can see at Clava Cairns follow a usual shape, with a line running north east to south west. This direction is exactly where the midwinter sunset would occur, and the tallest facing standing stone is the directly facing where the sunset would be during the winter solstice.

This amazing accuracy shows that the builders of the Clava Cairns placed extreme importance on the midwinter solstice, although why this particular day during the year was so important is unknown. Of course, speculation and folklore are abundant!

The sun was an essential part of Bronze Age society, and the midwinter setting sun would signify the turning of the season to a cold, hard winter. These forgotten beliefs are unknown to the modern day, but there’s a magical atmosphere you can enjoy during your visit to the Clava Cairns.

How to Get to Clava Cairns – Inverness to Clava Cairns

Inverness is the nearest prominent city to the Clava Cairns and sits a short distance away from the city centre. Here are the quickest ways to reach the Clava Cairns via car and public transit:

By Car

Driving from Inverness to the Clava Cairns only takes 20 minutes to reach! From Inverness, take the B9006 until you reach the Culloden Moor Inn, after which you can take the National Cycle Route 7 on the right. After you cross over the River Nairn, carry along the National Cycle Route, and you should begin to see signs leading you to the Clava Cairns.

There is a car park available on site.

By Public Transit

Using a combination of ScotRail and bus, public transit is a fantastic way to reach the Clava Cairns from Inverness. Head to Inverness Station and catch the ScotRail to Elgin off Platform 4, which takes you directly to the Inverness Airport.

From the Airport, catch the 27 Bus the Airport for 7 stops until you reach the Cumberland Stone. Unfortunately, that’s as far as the public transit will take you, and the rest of the route needs to be walked. The walk takes about 25 minutes, but you should check out the nearby Culloden Battlefield to make a day of it!

Best Time of Year to Visit the Clava Cairns

As with many attractions in Scotland, the best time of year to visit the Clava Cairns is between May and September. The entrance to the Clava Cairns is free for visitors and is open year-round, so you can feasibly see the cairn no matter the time of year.

The spring, summer, and autumn seasons generally have the best weather, with more dry and sunny days. However, if you want to enjoy the midwinter sunset at the Clava Cairns, paying a visit during the Scottish winter is a particularly fine time to do so.

Things to Do at the Clava Cairns

Once you’ve reached the Clava Cairns, the historic attraction is yours to explore! Here are the top things to do at the Clava Cairns during your visit.

Learn about This Ancient Burial Site

Ancient Burial Site

The Clava Cairns are three well-preserved cairns frequently called the Balnuaran of Clava Cairns. While the site doesn’t have a visitor centre, there are signs throughout the prehistoric burial cairns that show off an expansive knowledge of the history of this ancient cemetery.

The Clava Cairns are part of a greater complex of burial monuments, with the Milton of Clava the only other part that is open to the public. You can explore passage graves for the two outer cairns and enjoy the various forgotten beliefs carved into the stone—although some believe this is just the result of water erosion.

Explore Inverness


Since Clava Cairns is only a stone’s throw away from the Inverness area, seeing the bustling city of Inverness should be on everybody’s list of things to do. Known as ‘The Captial of the Highlands’, Inverness has terrific attractions to enjoy for visitors, including the Inverness Museum and Gallery, the Victorian Market, and the Caledonian Canal.

The Pictish origins of Inverness make it a beautiful setting to stay for a few days, especially during the height of Scottish summer.

See The Inspiration Behind Craigh Nad Duhn

Craigh Nad Duhn

The Clava Cairns are an immensely atmospheric site to enjoy, especially if you’ve seen how they’ve been involved, they are with Scottish TV shows. The Clava Cairns are said to have been the main inspiration behind the stone circles in Outlander, although, in the book and the show, they’re called Craigh Na Duhn.

Although the Clava Cairns was not used during the filming of Outlander, the site is still extremely popular for Outlander fans to visit, thanks to this connection.

Visit the Medieval Chapel

The Clava Cairns aren’t the only attraction you can see while visiting the Clava Cairns and standing stones. There’s a smaller cemetery, a few more standing stones, and even the remains of a Medieval chapel. If you take the time to explore the abundant, beautiful woodland setting, there are many clues and hidden gems to find.

See Nearby Attractions

Falls of Davich

Around the Clava Cairns, there are several other unique attractions for budding historians looking to fill up their day with activities and things to do. Just a few minutes from the Cairns is the Culloden Battlefield, a significant site for the last bloody battle of the Jacobite Rising. The Corrimony Chambered Cairns is located south west of the Clava Cairns, along with other major attractions like Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, and Falls of Davich.

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