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Cairnpapple Hill, Scotland

In the theme of the new book, Travel Magic, I’ll be posting occasional moments from my journeys around the world.

We visited the oft-overlooked Cairnpapple Hill and discovered an ancient mystery. Used as an ancient ritual site more than 4000 years ago, Cairnpapple (meaning cairn of the people, carirn of the eye, or cairn of the tent) stands on a prominent hill dominating the local landscape. From it, on a clear day, one can see from coast to coast. It contains neolithic monuments from 5,500 years ago, roughly contemporaneous with Newgrange in Ireland.

Roughly 5,500 years ago six hearths were constructed here leaving behind potshards and fragments of two stone axes constructed in Wales and Cumbria, indicating a vast area of trading and influence. The hearths, made of wood, were covered and later disintegrated under an oval earthworks (known as a henge) constructed some years later. We have only the post holes and supports left to show where the originals were.

About 4,000 years ago a very important man was buried in the center of the henge. Marked by an oval setting of stones, with a single large standing stone at its head, the body was laid on its back, face to the sky with a a wooden mask covering the face. Thsi is a truly unusual placement, as most bodies found were buried on their side in the fetal position. Two pots left alongside the body seem to have held food and drink to sustain the dead on their journey to the afterlife.

At least three other (pagan) burials were conducted here later, in covered, stone-lined pits and a cremation site and (much later) three Christian burials took place.

The site is atmospheric and amazing, even covered with a cement bunker. We were visiting with friends, so I didn’t have much of a chance to make a sacred connection. I was, however, the last to leave and took a few minutes to connect.

I greeted the spirit of the place in a general, non verbal way and was gratified to be acknowledged. I offered my gratitude for its existence and made an offering of an image it might enjoy — the view that day from the exterior summit. The image was accepted with bemusement and I felt at peace.

Cairnpapple Hill, Scotland

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