Building a Life CairnHome / Church Life / Fellowship Events / Building a Life Cairn

On Saturday September 24th the theme for our fellowship activity was Building a Life Cairn.

image of a cairnFirst a bit of background: a cairn is a group of stones placed on top of one another to form a mound. The term is believed to be derived from the Scottish Gaelic word "carn".

This is a tradition that has existed within Scotland for many centuries. Carrying a stone from the bottom of the valley to be placed on top of an existing cairn has become part of Scottish folklore and custom. An ancient Scottish blessing, "Cuiridh mi clach air do charn" means "I will put a stone on your cairn".

However, building cairns on the summits of hills and mountains is widespread in many countries, and it often symbolises a climber’s success in reaching the top.

stones forming a miniature cairnThe aim of the fellowship activity was for each of the participants to collect a stone from church and travel by bridleway to the site of Flawford Church to build a ‘life cairn’.

We were a group of about fourteen adults, three children, three dogs and Big Ted.  We met up at church and each collected one or two stones from a ‘cairn-let’ that Paul had built in the children’s corner.



At about 2:30 we set out to walk from St Mary’s church at Plumtree to St Peter’s church at Flawford:

map of the route


Plumtree Windmill

We trekked across a couple of fields until we came to a hillock.  Paul explained that there used to be a windmill here but it was burned down.  The legend was that its owner (a local magistrate) had handed out a harsh sentence to some miscreants and they burned down the mill to get their revenge.

However, newspaper reports described the event slightly differently – see Notts Landmark Destroyed

view of plumtree from the windmill moundDuring the Second World War, there was a searchlight based at the site; Joyce Richmond from Plumtree Post Office, used to deliver the soldiers’ mail by hand here twice a week.

On the left is a view of Plumtree looking back from the site of Plumtree windmill.


taking a breakNext on the itinerary was a field of wild horseradish but we were a bit late for harvesting it – it’s at its best in midsummer.  Then we stopped for a rest, and took in the views of Tollerton.


Paul pointed out that some of the stones on the bridleway were a bluish colour and contained tiny bubbles.  It turned out that these stones were formed from slag – the waste product of smelting iron, probably from the Stanton Iron Works.  Nowadays the slag can be processed commercially, but historically it was virtually worthless and simply used in the construction of roads.


In the photo on the right, Mike takes in the view of Tollerton while Kiki and the twins eat!


We carried on walking across numerous fields until we arrived at our destination...


Flawford Church

painting of flawford churchFinally the group arrived at Flawford church – only to find that, a bit like Plumtree Windmill, it wasn’t there!  St Peter’s, Flawford (which is often also spelled Flawforth) was built to serve the villages of Ruddington, Plumtree, Edwalton and Bradmore, which are all roughly equidistant from the church.

It was probably the earliest church in the area, and it served as the Mother Church to Ruddington and Edwalton.  By the 1700s the church had become redundant as the villages it served now had churches of their own.

In the 1770s the church was in a ‘ruinous’ state and was pulled down, the stones being used to construct and repair farm buildings in the area.

Today the site of the church is maintained as open ground, with the outlines of the church depicted in gravel.

On the right is an artist's impression of how Flawford church would have looked when it was still in use.


After a drink and a snack, we started to build a ‘life cairn’ from the stones we’d brought with us. This was constructed in an unobtrusive part of the churchyard one stone at a time; as each stone was placed on the pile, it symbolised a person or a thought.

the group about to build a cairn


big ted sitting on the cairnBig Ted also got in on the act, and here he is sitting on the cairn. That's Katie and Kiki playfully holding his ears; Holly was behind the camera, taking the photo.


Then we retraced our steps back to the church where cottage pie and a pudding awaited us.  Many thanks to Paul for organising yet another thought-provoking event and to Pauline and Kate for providing the food.


The Bible mentions that a cairn was built when the Israelites crossed the River Jordan:

Joshua 4, verses 1–8

1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,

2 'Take twelve men from the people, one from each tribe,

3 and order them to lift up twelve stones from this place, out of the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests stood firm.  They are to carry them across and set them down in the camp where you spend the night.'

4 Joshua summoned the twelve men whom he had chosen out of the Israelites, one man from each tribe,

5 and said to them, 'Cross over in front of the Ark of the Lord your God as far as the middle of the Jordan, and let each of you take a stone and hoist it on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of Israel.

6 These stones are to stand as a memorial among you; and in days to come, when your children ask you what these stones mean,

7 you shall tell them how the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord when it crossed the Jordan.  Thus these stones will always be a reminder to the Israelites.'

8 The Israelites did as Joshua had commanded: they lifted up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, as the Lord had instructed Joshua, one for each of the tribes of Israel, carried them across to the camp and set them down there.

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