Scotland’s Stonehenge: The Standing Stones of Callanish
Posted on Jun 21, 2017 by Neil Irvine
To gaze into the circle stones of Callanish is to gaze into a place where time has no meaning.
Stonehenge of the North
Stonehenge is such a famous historical monument of standing stones that most people are familiar with the stones and their connection with the summer solstice. The stone circle has been featured in countless TV shows, Hollywood movies or literature and often they centre on attempts to solve the mysteries of why it was built at all. As humans we are always compelled to uncover the mysteries of our past.
But did you know Scotland has its own tantalising version of Stonehenge – the Standing Stones of Callanish in the Outer Hebrides? It has been nicknamed the ‘Stonehenge of the North’ but, built around 3000 BC, the stones actually predate Stonehenge by approximately 2,000 years. So maybe Stonehenge should be the Callanish of the South?
You’ll find the circle of Standing Stones near Loch Roag on the Isle of Lewis laid out in a cross formation. They are part of a number of ancient sites in the Callanish and are classed as Lewisian Gneiss – these are the oldest rocks in Britain, in fact, some of the oldest rocks in the world. They were buried under the surface of the earth for hundreds of millions of years.
- Visit the ancient Callanish Stones on our Skye and Outer Hebrides Wilderness Walking trip
An Ancient Observatory?
No one truly knows why the stones were built, but many historians and scientists believe the most probable reason is that the stones are an ancient type of astronomical observatory.
Archaeological research over a number of generations has uncovered that the stones appear to be aligned with movements of the solar system. The stones are positioned to align with the path of the sun and the moon at different points in the solar circle. It seems too much of an incredible coincidence that it wasn’t the intention of the ancient people of Scotland.
Celebrating the Summer Solstice
The longest day of the year, or the summer solstice, occurs once at year around 21st June. People all over the UK celebrate the longest day at landmarks throughout Britain including, most famously, Stonehenge. Here in Scotland the Callanish Stones is the ideal place to enjoy the longest day and watch the sun both set and rise within a few short hours.
The word ‘solstice’ comes from the Latin word ‘solstitum,’ which translates to the ‘sun standing still.’ On the longest day the sun stops moving northward and it signals that each day will shorten in increments.
Historically pagans celebrated the summer solstice as they believed it was the day where the veil between our world and the next one was at its most fragile and the fairies magic was believed to be at their most powerful.
Some Quirky Folklore
Since the erection of the circle stone thousands of years ago the human race has advanced at an accelerated rate but there’s one thing that hasn’t really changed: our capacity for imagination.
- One early story was that the standing stones were living Giants that once walked among the earth, but they were petrified by St Kieran who thought them to be evil spirits when they refused to convert to Christianity.
- In the 17th century islanders on Lewis would refer to the stones in Gaelic as ‘fir bhreige,’ which translates to false men.
- Another tale tells of a glowing entity, known as the ‘Shining One’, walking the northern avenue stones early midsummer morning, his arrival signalled by the call of a cuckoo.
- Another legend states that the stones were once buried deep beneath the earth and were uncovered by a very determined and strong farmer who was out looking for rocks to build a wall.
Visit the Callanish Standing Stones
Marvelling at the stunning pictures of the Callanish Standing Stones is one thing, but actually visiting the ancient site and exploring the area for yourself is an incredible feeling that cannot be beaten by any other means. Another ancient building nearby is the massive Iron Age round house known as Dun Carloway. Our guides know the area well and can take you on excellent hikes that combine coastal walks with visits to these incredible sites.
We offer a number of incredible adventure holidays that include a visit the Standing Stones of Callanish:
- Perfect for those looking for an easy walk and hike: Wilderness Walking Outer Hebrides and Skye
- Combine history with beautiful wildlife on our Outer Hebrides and St Kilda Wildlife Adventure
- Our Mountain Biking Hebridean Trail is great for those seeking a more adrenaline fuelled adventure before visiting the Standing Stones
- Enjoy cycling along the amazingly isolated roads on our Road Cycling Outer Hebrides trip
Other Famous Standing Stones in Scotland
Believe it or not the ancient Standing Stones of Callanish are not the only ones in Scotland. Take a look below to learn about a couple of other similar sites, which happily enough Wilderness Scotland also visit.
Orkney – Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar was built around 2500 -2000 BC and so is even older than Callanish. It is the third largest stone circle in Britain and also is thought to be an astronomical observation of the solstice. According to legend it is said to be a religious shrine and a place of ancient ritual.
- Learn more about the Ring of Brodgar in our Top 10 Things to do in the Orkney Isles
Kilmartin Glen – The Three Standing Stones
Kilmartin Glen incredibly has three different sets of standing stones in the area:
- The standing stones of Ballymeanoch is a complex of neolithic (stone age) structures. These stones date back over 4,000 years and the tallest stone measures 4 meters in height. The stones are structured in a circle with two rows of 4 and 2 stones.
- Temple Wood is an ancient site that is made up of two circles – a northernly and a southernly one. The southern circle contains 13 stones and it is believed that in the past there may have been 22 stones. It is thought that the south circle was built first around 3000 BC. The northern circle is smaller and is made up of stones that are rounder than those in the southern circle.
- The Nether Largie Standing Stones can be found to the south east of the Temple Wood Stone Circle. The site is made up of four tall standing stones with a single stone in the middle. It is believed that the Nether Largie Standing Sones acted together as a lunar observatory but no one truly knows for sure. The site is made up of four tall standing stones with a single stone in the middle.
- Visit Kilmartin Glen on our Wilderness Walking trip – Argyll and the Isles
What are your thoughts on the Standing Stones? Do you believe that they are meant as observatories or something else? Share your stories and theories on our social media channels.
For your chance to see the Callanish Stones in person visit our Outer Hebrides page for more information.
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