These three prehistoric burial chambers lie at Balnuaran, on a terrace above the River Nairn. They date from about 4000 years ago but are still in very good condition. The wooded site of this Bronze Age cemetery is atmospheric, especially near sunrise or sunset, and above all at the winter solstice (the shortest day).
Each tomb is inside a low oval stone cairn enclosed by a ‘kerb’ of larger stones. The three cairns form a line from north-east to south-west, with passages also aligned, suggesting a role in celebrating the winter solstice when the sun sets in the extreme south-west.
They are unusual among burial sites in Scotland in that each tomb is encircled by a separate ring of standing stones. The two outer cairns are passage graves, and you can crawl along the entrance passages leading to the burial chamber. You will see mysterious ‘cup-marked’ (carved) stones and may find a small torch useful.
From Clava Cairns you can enjoy a splendid view of the Findhorn Viaduct carrying the mainline railway across the Findhorn River. It is also very close to the site of the Battle of Culloden (1746), the last battle fought on British soil.
The three cairns at Balnuaran are the best preserved of their kind, but the term ‘clava cairn’ is applied to any of about 45 such cairns in northern Inverness-shire.