Clava Cairns is an ancient, mystical site shrouded in mystery and the silence of unanswered questions. No-one knows who was buried here and what rituals might have once taken place. What we do know is that the cairns date back over 4000 years to the Bronze Age.
The Cairns themselves are more than enough to merit a visit, however when you add in an impressive viaduct and a secret waterfall with plunge pool this is an area not to be missed!
I parked at the Clava Cairns car park. It is free parking and free to enter. The location is run by Historic Scotland and there are information boards telling you about the history of the site. I was amazed to learn that the 3 stone circles in front of me were 4000 years old.
The cairns are in really good condition and I was excited to get a closer look. The site includes two passage graves, stone circles that surround the graves, a central ring cairn, and a kerb cairn (build roughly 1000 years after the original cairns). Further along the road to the right as you leave the main burial site are the remains of a medieval chapel and another large standing stone. I was the only person there on the day I visited, and it felt very atmospheric.
I visited a few days before the winter solstice. This is one of the best times to visit as the sun sets down the central passages of the cairns and lights up the inside. The cairns would have been completely covered over thousands of years ago so I crouched down and tried to imagine what it would be like inside the cairn without the sun light shining through. It was dark, cold and just a little eerie!
It is thought that only one or two people were buried in each cairn. They were likely extremely important people as it would have taken a lot of time and effort to build the cairns. As it was so long ago the exact details are shrouded in mystery.
Clava Cairns also has a very important link to TV series Outlander. While ‘Craigh na Dun’, does not actually exist, Clava Cairns is understood to be author Diana Gabaldon’s inspiration for the mystical stones that take Claire back in time to the 1700’s. Unfortunately, despite all the will in the world, the stones did not transport me anywhere near Jamie Fraser, however they certainly are a truly magical place.
After spending time at both sites I decided to walk towards the impressive Culloden train viaduct that dominates the surrounding area. This massive arched bridge is also known as the Nairn viaduct or the Clava viaduct. The curved sandstone structure was opened in 1898, is 549 metres in length and spans across the wide valley of the river Nairn. There is a small parking area under the viaduct which is where I walked to and then continued under the viaduct for a closer look. It’s spectacular to see it from underneath.
Finding the Secret Waterfall (First attempt failure!)
I followed the viaduct down the river, where the largest arch crosses the River Nairn. From here you can retrace your steps back to the small parking area or follow the small stream to the right. I followed the steam as I wanted to see if there were any good waterfalls or pools along this stretch. There was one pool under the road bridge that looked good for a dip! However, it wasn’t the secret waterfall and pool I was hoping to find so the search continued.
It took many attempts to find the secret waterfall, but it was fun searching and I found a number of nice waterfalls, gorges and pools all in the local area. If you want to find the hidden waterfall read on!
The Real Secret Waterfall…
From the small parking area under the viaduct walk up the road a short way and then there is a dirt track uphill to the right. You climb over a large metal gate and from here follow a faint path through the field. Looking back you will get some really good views of the viaduct. After a few minutes of walking there is another fence you have to climb. From here you should be able to hear the cascade of the waterfall. Follow the faint path downhill and it will lead you to the promised land!
Keep it Clean!
Unfortunately one of times we visited the area was littered with beer cans, bottles and chairs. We tidied up as much as we could. If you plan on visiting please try and be respectful to the area and the landowner! If we all leave places a little bit cleaner than we find them it will benefit everyone!
There are at least four nice waterfalls and pools in the gorge. Care has to be taken getting down to them as the descent is quite steep. The first waterfall and pool you come to is probably the best for jumping in and swimming. The water is about 5ft deep so take care when jumping in and use the lowest ledge as your platform. We were told that it used to be much deeper before the farmer filled it in. As always we tried to be respectful and left the place a wee bit cleaner than we found it!
We enjoyed a few jumps into the freezing pools, but our swimming was cut short by the cold chill of winter! We will definitely return in summer.
If you like waterfalls click here to read about one of our favourite falls in the Highlands!
An Afternoon Well Spent
The Clava walk is really manageable as all three places are close together. The walk took us around 3 hours and that included spending time in the pool. If you are looking for an afternoon that combines ancient Scottish history, impressive architecture and a fun outdoor activity then this is definitely one for you!
To help you find this beautiful waterfall we have created a map for you to use.
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