Virtual Vacation: Clava Cairns

VVS WTTOn this ten-day Write, Travel, Transform trip, we alternate a couple of days centered at “home” at Newbold House, with tour days. Today was one of our all-day tour days.

Our first stop was Clava Cairns, laughingly described by one of our writers on the bus as “Stonehenge for wee people.” But once we arrived, no one felt like joking except Allistair, our bus driver. “There’s no restrooms here,” he told us, “but there are plenty of trees.”

Off the bus, we gathered by the entrance in a circle with Margot, our gifted storyteller from last night, and waited expectantly. She looked around at each of us and said, “I imagine you’re all waiting for me to tell you about the Clava Cairns, but I’m not going to do that. No one can tell you about these stones. No one can answer the question, ‘Who were these people and why did they set these stones this way?’ When we step into this space, we are stepping into the great mystery.”


She continued, “These stones, at least 4000 years old, are late neolithic Bronze Age burial tombs built in alignment with the midwinter setting sun, arranged to map the movements of the sun and the moon according to the ancient Celtic calendar. But there’s only so much the facts can tell us. I want to frame this a a journey into the great mystery. It’s like a cosmic clock working with the wheel of time, both small time and great time. It’s like Thich Nhat Hanh said, ‘When we are really in the present moment, we can touch all time.’ These places are the gateway to ultimate time. If we’re really present, we can touch that deeper time.”

Margot looked out at us from her plaid coat and gave us the following instructions: “Step in in silence. You may want to take pictures, but arrive fully before you do. Walk slowly, one breath in for one step, one breath out for the next. Walk sunwise (clockwise) around each stone to honor the place.”

Then she reached in her things and pulled out an old, brightly colored china jar with a tight-fitting lid. “Oatmeal is a traditional offering. This is some old oatmeal,” she said, opening the jar. And she put a pinch of a fine, unfamiliar ground oatmeal into the palm of each of our hands so we’d have an offering for the stones.


In final preparation for our journeys, Margot concluded, “Walk for a time in silence and draw in the atmosphere. Then sit and write the prompt, ‘Here I am…’ Some say the original Gods and Goddesses–the sidhe–the creators of the world rest in this place, living beyond the veil. You may also have a question for them. Come in a spirit of humility and ask a question about your own life or about the world. Then be open to receiving their answer.”

Grasping my handful of oatmeal, I made my way though the entry gate into this ancient place of power.


It was a relief to be in silence and alone after so many days shepherding 17 other souls. As I slowly walked the soggy ground, wandering around these prescient stones, I could feel myself slowing down, the day to day ups and downs of running a retreat sloughing off my shoulders and belly into the earth.


The rocking click of a train clattered on the tracks, the squish and suck of my soggy footprints and the darting of birds and insects were the sounds I heard. I shied away from the tourists not in our group, those whose voices broke the ancient trance of stillness. Standing within the embrace of the stones in the center of the circle, no particular question arose for me, only the vast rising stillness.

At other times in my life, many questions might have arisen, but standing here now, I felt a solid sense of peace. I already have my life partner. I already am doing my life’s work. I’ve already raised the family I dreamed of. I am already blessed with a community that holds me and that I hold in turn. I was stunned with the fullness of what I have, with the rare and sweet sensation of enough.



A year ago, when I led my last trip in Bali, I went to see the Balinese healer, Jakarta Rai, and he made me a new heart. And now, the stones were telling me to stand firm and steady, to move out into the world and my own life from the center of that new beating heart. It’s the way I can bring healing into the world. It’s what I can do now, at this juncture in my life, almost one year from the death of my mother, ten months after launching our last child into the world. Standing at Clava Cairns, I felt a rare and precious sense of equilibrium. And that’s when my question arose. If only that were true for the world. I remembered all my late night Internet searches for news from home. And there was my question, clear as day. “What about the racist murders in Charleston? What can be done about the hatred and terrorism in the world?”

And the stones did not say. But I am still listening. I know it is a question we all share.

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