Milton of Clava

Near Inverness
The Scottish Highlands
Scotland, United Kingdom

(OS Ref. Sheet 27, NH753439)


I retreated from the fabulous Balnuaran of Clava cairns at the arrival of a tourist coach, apart from one or two people we'd had the cairns all to ourselves. The intention was to leave the crowds and walk the quarter of a mile or so to Milton of Clava, a quest almost foiled by the presence of a herd of cows on the path. Patience paid off and eventualy the cows made their way through a gate and into the fields beyond. The two and-a-half metre monolith that marks the site came into view, and minutes later I was stood next to it.


The place is a higgledy-piggledy mess of rock, ditch and embankment with one structure seemingly overlaying and being built into the other. Thankfully the information board courtesy of 'Historic Scotland' brings some clarity to the place:

"A series of cemetaries and cairns was constructed along the lower ground of Strathnairn in the centuries around 2000BC.


There is some evidence that they were located in the same areas as the settlements of this period and yet the cairns contain very few buriels despite the fact that many people must have participated in their construction. This suggests that social differences were expressed by the construction of the tombs.


The best known of these cemeteries is at Balnuaran of Clava but here at Milton of Clava, a short distance upriver, there are traces of another.


It is not clear how many structures once existed here, and what you can see today may have formed only part of a larger cemetery. The main prehistoric monument is another cairn, most likely a passage grave although much denuded, but there are indecations that further monuments, some accompanied by standing stones, had been built nearby. It is not known whether the surviving cairn was associated with any buriels, but this seems likely.

A remarkable feature of Milton of Clava is a low retangular enclosure containing the foundations of a stone building.


It has not been excavated but it is interpreted as the site of a medieval chapel. The juxtaposition of prehistoric and Christian monuments is unlikely to be coincidental. Perhaps the chapel was built to combat the pagan associations of the place. Such a practice is found widely in Scotland and beyond.