Scotland’s first settlers arrived over 10,000 years ago, and even today there are incredible monuments to the peoples of long ago. Burial cairns, brochs, hut circles and other remains are abundant across much of the mainland and islands, but it is standing stones that perhaps draw the strongest reactions from visitors. For standing stones and circles the mystery is often around their purpose – something that has been subject to speculation by archaeologists for many years. Here’s a few of Scotland’s finest:
One of the most spectacular and celebrated monuments in the country, Callanish – set on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides – dates back around 5,000 years – pre-dating Stonehenge. The central circular here is overshadowed by the great avenues of stones leading to it from four directions, making the overall effect more like a cross. Our walk (linked above) also visits two further stone circles nearby.
Aberdeenshire is particularly rich in ancient monuments, with souterrains, chambered cairns and ancient hillforts as well as its range of standing stones and circles. Dating back to around 2500BC, Tomnaverie is a fine example of what is known as a recumbent stone circle – a type unique to the area in having the largest stone laid flat. Also well worth a visit are Easter Aquhorthies and Loanhead near Inverurie, and Cullerlie and Midmar Kirk near Echt.
Kilmartin Glen is said to be one of the richest areas in Europe for prehistoric remains; the walk linked above visits some of the most impressive and atmospheric monuments in a fairly short excursion from Kilmartin village. These include the Temple Wood stone circle pictured, the impressive standing stones of Lady Glassary Wood, and a range of important Bronze Age chambered cairns.
Though only four stones remain from this circle, they are immense, reaching a maximum height of six metres. Excavations suggest that the circle (actually more of an ellipse) was planned to consist of 12 stones, but for some reason one or two were never erected. The Stones of Stenness feature in Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Pirate, based loosely on the life of the Orcadian pirate John Gow.
Whilst the stones making up this almost complete circle may not compare in size to more famous rings, the setting in one of the most scenic parts of the Isle of Mull could hardly be bettered. As well as the circle there are a couple of other large standing stones nearby, one reaching over 2m high.
This massive prehistoric standing stone certainly predates the Clan Macleod. Standing to a height of 2.5 metres, the impressive sentinel enjoys a superb position above some of Harris’ finest beaches. Offshore is the island of Taransay with its own fine sands – it acheived fame (or notoriety) as the setting of BBC TV’s Castaway series.
Kinnell Stone Circle, near Killin
Though close to the very popular village of Killin, the Kinnell Stone Circle is relatively little known. It can be seen distantly from the Auchmore Circuit – if visiting more closely, please respect the privacy of the owners of Kinnell House.
The Bodach and Cailleach, Isle of Gigha
Most of Scotland’s smaller islands seem to have their own standing stones, and the beautiful Isle of Gigha is no exception. The names are Gaelic for the Old Man and Old Woman, but the stones predate the coming of the Gaels from Ireland. The Bodach stone has a peculiarly shaped top.
Orkney is world famous for its prehistoric sites. The Stone Age village of Skara Brae and the spectacular chambered cairn of Maes Howe are perhaps the most celebrated, but this spectacular stone circle could hold its own in any company. It has extensive views, and is just a short distance from the Stones of Stenness.
Like Orkney and Kilmartin Glen, Machrie Moor on Arran has almost an embarrassment of fine prehistoric remains. With no less than six stone circles set amongst the bleak moorland and the rugged backdrop of Arran’s mountains, Machrie Moor is truly a magical place to visit.