Facts About Craigh na Dun, the Stone Circle in Outlander
Craigh na Dun is a circle of megalithic standing stones with the power to transport people through time on the Outlander series.
Throughout the series, the magical site is pivotal to the story, but is Craigh na Dun real, and where did the concept originate?
Craigh na Dun is a Time Portal
In the series based on novels by Diana Gabaldon, Claire Randall, played by Catriona Balfe, innocently touches one of the largest stones on the show. After hearing a buzzing sound, she touches the stone. Suddenly, she travels from 1945 back to 1743. From there, she finds herself caught up in the lives of Scottish Highlanders who see her as an outlander or “Sassenach.”
See more about Craigh na Dun from STARZ below:
Notably, Sassenach is a derogatory Gaelic word for an English person. However, it becomes a term of endearment for Jamie Fraser, the Scottish warrior who unexpectedly becomes her husband. Now, it’s also the name of a Scottish Whisky brand created by actor Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie Fraser.
Below, see an explanation for Sassenach from actor Sam Heughan:
Is Craigh na Dun Real?
Due to the Outlander series’s popularity, people travel to Inverness, Scotland, to see Craigh na Dun. Unfortunately, they will discover that the standing stones in the series are fictional. Although they look beautiful and real onscreen, they are made of styrofoam you could pick up yourself.
About 80 miles to the south in Kinloch Rannoch in Perth is the beautiful hilltop site for Craigh na Dun. If you’re looking for it, it’s in the middle of nowhere and part of a private farm.
Nearby, Loch Rannoch, at 20 km (12.4 miles) in area, is home to beautiful Arctic char, a unique colorful salmon-like fish that has lived there since the last Ice Age.
You can see the fictional stone circle in the trailer for Outlander below:
A Magical Hilltop
Although the megaliths are fictional, the mystical hilltop location is very real. In the Iron Age, an ancient fort may have stood on the mound, now circled with trees. Today, sheep run freely on the working farm there.
When choosing the location, screenwriter Ronald Moore says there were many considerations. Thus, it took a long time to find the perfect spot.
“It had to be big enough for all these stones to stand in a circle. It had to be level enough that dancers could actually dance around on it,” Moore told Town & Country.
During filming, the hill became an integral part of the story.
“It had to be on a hill with a bit of a view because we were going to have to climb up to this hill and then run back down it. It wasn’t easy to find.”
Some visitors to the real site say it’s a magical place with an unknown past.
“This place is such a magical place,” says YouTube tour guide Roamin Scot. “Archaeologists have been doing research up there because there is a stone circle of some description up there. We don’t actually know what it is, but it is quite old,” he says.
As is often true at megalithic stone sites, some say they sense a mystical energy field.
“Having been up there, I can tell you; you can feel the energy running through the ground. It’s a very strange feeling. It’s so peaceful. You just know that this was a site of importance.”
See more from Outlandish Journeys:
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The Real Craigh na Dun?
People hoping to find Craigh na Dun may find a real similarly-named site instead. Craig Dunain is an interesting site with a standing stone.
There, a large megalith stands on a hill overlooking Inverness, as in the books. Of course, it looks nothing like the stone circle in the series, but it’s a beautiful sight, as you can see here.
Also, see what the Craig Dunain stone looks like below:
Minutes from the Culloden Battlefield, the amazing Clava Cairns features a huge megalithic stone circle. The full name is the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of the Balnuaran of Clava, shortened to The Balnuaran of Clava. For a thousand years, prestigious local community members were buried there.
The ancient site dated back 4,000 years, but the area may have been in use much longer. Nearby are the remains of a medieval chapel.
As the name implies, there are also cairns or structures built with smaller stones. Here, you will find three Bronze Age cairns that are passage graves aligned to the winter solstice. Entrances in the cairns lead to a circular center.
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A Past Shrouded in Mystery
Free-standing megaliths were placed for astronomical purposes, to mark the changing seasons, and to serve as a sort of calendar. Petroglyphs on the stones feature a ring-and-cup design that may symbolize an unknown deity. Notably, the deity could reference a Celtic Maiden-Matron-Crone.
At one time, people have covered the stones with white quartz, causing them to glow. Although open today, the cairns may have once been much taller with a roof.
Today, the Druids’ intention remains a mystery like similar sites found in Britain, Ireland, and abroad. Certainly, the site seems to be a monument and place of remembrance.
See an aerial view of Clava Cairns below:
Ancient Beings Associated with Stone Circles
Going back to ancient times, the Tuatha Dé Danann are part of Irish and Scottish mythology. They were Celtic pre-Christian gods with supernatural ability and seen as glowing with white light.
Often, the Tuatha are associated with ancient sites, cairns, and standing stones.
Notably, “Tuatha Dé” may derive from old Irish Gaelic translating to “people of the gods.” When early Christians arrived, they incorporated some pagan beliefs, such as the Pagan Celtic Goddess Brigid. For example, the goddess became Saint Brigid in the Roman Catholic Church.
Otherwise, the Tuatha Dé Danann were said to be driven underground by the Celts. Often, they were said to use portals to the Otherworld in connection with fairy rings and ancient stones.
As part of the tales, these beings were said to be skilled in magic with powerful weapons. Today, Tuatha Dé Danann and Druid tales are generally reduced to modern-day fairy tales. As the first Christian beliefs began to arrive, the ancient stories were driven into obscurity. Those who continued to hold pagan beliefs could be subject to persecution.
Witches in Scotland
In the Outlander show, Claire Randall is referred to as “La Dame Blanche” or the White Witch, while other characters are accused and killed for witchcraft.
La Dame Blanche is a mythical figure in European medieval folklore. Sometimes, they are seen as benevolent, and other times, evil.
“[La Dame Blanche figures] are, according to different mythology, witches, healers, sorceresses, spirits, or ghosts. Then can be sacred figures who are said to help or hinder those who encounter them.”
Once, thousands of people in Scotland were accused of being witches. If accused, “white” magic or not, they could face public scorn and painful death.
According to historical accounts, this was as many as 3,837 people from the late 16th to the early 17th centuries. During religious reformations of the time, witchcraft panics were severe in Scotland, in part due to Scottish ruler King James VI, known for the King James Bible.
One of the first real-life people accused of witchcraft was Geillis Duncan, also a fictional character in Outlander.
See more about her in the STARZ clip below:
Sadly, people accused of witchcraft may have lived with the reputation for decades. Over many years, they were subjects of gossip and scorn. Afterward, they faced trial and, often, torture and execution. Mostly, they were older women, but as many as 15% of the accused were men.
“…many ‘witches’ were defined as witches by their neighbors, through a process of gossip and quarreling,” notes The University of Edinburgh.
According to National Geographic, “Witch-hunting could be seen as an extension of the Protestant Reformation as parish ministers and government authorities sought to create a ‘godly state’ in which everyone worshipped correctly, and sin and ungodliness were wiped out.”
As for the White Witch, a French opera called La Dame Blanche was published around 1825. It’s a Scottish love story and describes a mystical spirit guarding a castle. The work by Adrien Boieldieu was among the most popular French comic operas of the nineteenth century.
More about the White Witch in Outlander below (contains spoilers):
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube