What Are Rock Cairns? – A Deep-Rooted Scottish Tradition
Cairns are carefully built piles of stones that rise up into the sky like a game of Jenga. They can be found in all kinds of wild places. But they are more than just a clever way to balance things.
What are cairns of rocks? Why do people stack rocks?
A cairn is a pile of stones that has been put together carefully. Since prehistoric times, these man-made mounds have been used in a number of ways. They have protected different landscapes from the harsh elements and the test of time for thousands of years.
They can be found on mountain tops, ledges, river banks, moorlands, uplands, the desert, and other places where there are no trails. Derived from the Scots Gaelic word ‘càrn’, meaning ‘heap of stones’, cairns are ancient markers with Scottish roots found across the globe. But the word “cairn” is flexible and can be used to talk about both natural and man-made hills and piles of stones.
Cairns have been used as landmarks and places to bury people since prehistoric times. Some experts say that many of these old stone stacks were also built for astronomical, religious, and hunting purposes. Native people in Alaska and Greenland have used these kinds of markers for hundreds of years. Before lighthouses were invented, sailors used cairns to find their way.
Scotland and Cairns
With its maze of Neolithic, Pictish, and Viking sites, Scotland is full of rock cairns from the past and the present. The many burial cairns and megaliths that have been there for a long time show how long the practice has been going on. Clava Cairns, a group of ancient burial mounds with stone decorations near Inverness that are thought to be about 4,000 years old, may be the most well-known.
In Scottish legend, each member of the Highland Clan would put a stone on a pile before a battle. The remaining warriors would then take their stones away, leaving the rest to be used to build a memorial cairn for the dead. Putting a small stone on top of a cairn, especially on the top of a hill, is a long-standing Scottish tradition that shows respect. By putting this rock on the monument, you are helping to keep it in good shape and protect it from bad weather.
When the cairn marks a grave, the old Scots Gaelic blessing “Cuiridh mi clach air do chàrn” or “I’ll put a stone on your cairn” comes into play. The action is a way to say, “I’ll never forget you” and “you won’t be forgotten.”
Along with their Celtic roots, rock cairns are used by serious alpinists, rock climbers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts to find their way. Most mountains around the world have a network of cairns to help adventurers get to the top and get back down. Some of these cairns may have “beaks” that point in the right direction or to short cuts.
Summit cairns point out the highest peak, and some of them can also be used as wind shelters. Almost all will protect the summit register, which is a book where climbers can write about their trip and let others know if there are any problems with the route. Cairns can also be found on desert trails, near bodies of water, and in wild areas.
Unfortunately, cairns are often becoming more of a problem and less of a way to find your way. Their original purpose has been misunderstood and abused at some point. This is partly because people who don’t know what they’re doing build stone stacks along different routes without knowing what they mean. Some people even ruin old cairns so they can build a new one that they don’t know much about. Even experienced adventurers can get lost or go in the wrong direction if the cairns are moved. Once again, the growing number of cairns is an eyesore and is seen as littering, vandalism, and a threat to the environment in some national parks.
Adding fuel to the fire, places in the west have seen a rise in stone-balancing artists and people who see it as a spiritual act. Even though it’s creative and maybe even spiritual, this can cause pointless cairns to get in the way of adventurers and purists. It can also hurt the environment and upset ecosystems by destroying places where animals and bugs live.
The way out
At the end of the day, building cairns for fun can be relaxing and fun, but as a general rule, people should follow the “leave no trace” rule so they don’t mess up the natural environment, change the path, or risk taking credit for an ancient and sacred art form.
Topic: What Are Rock Cairns? – A Deep-Rooted Scottish Tradition
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By: Travel Pixy
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