A big part of going to Scotland was, for me, to see the cairns and standing stones. That there are so many in such a small land area and that they are largely intact is remarkable. Not quite as remarkable as the fact they were built – particularly the standing stones – in the first place. I’m going to revisit the standing stones in this post.
Kilmartin Glen is one of the few neolithic sites I’ve seen where you get a strong sense of a society creating something, because they didn’t just build one or two things here, they built many all in one spot. Whatever it was about landscape or territory that made this the right place to build, this society buried their dead and expressed their beliefs in this one area over a long period.
Like a lot of standing stones they are laid out on an axis and are of similar heights.
Kilmartin Glen also has two stone circles a few meters apart, in the wonderfully named Temple Wood.
The neolithic landscape on Mainland in the Orkneys gives you a similar sense of interconnected sites, but they are far less dense than Kilmartin Glen. Maybe because they are more spread out, they are also much bigger in scale; the Stones of Stenness are towering wonders and the Ring of Brodgar is on a much grander scale to the stone circles of Temple Wood.
Interestingly, both of these sites are also henges – though we only know about the encircling embankment and ditch at Stenness through archeology – putting them on a reasonably small list of such sites within the UK where a stone circle exists within a henge.
On Lewis there is also a “ritual landscape” with many standing stones and remains of circles dotted around. The local guide who was showing us around was amusingly dismissive of these small stones (part of a circle) because nothing compares to the scale of the Callanish standing stones.
The Callanish I site is a stone circle with a cross through it, accompanied by stone “alignments” that lead away from the circle. An amazing sight. The time invested in creating all of the circles, stone groups and henges is a bit mind-blowing, but Callanish I is also just lovely in its symmetry.
Can I just add that I also liked these standing stones for the actual stone.
I saw an estimate that, across the UK, only about half the original standing stones remain. Which makes me think that once the entire place was a “ritual landscape”, because you probably couldn’t have walked far without finding a single menhir if not something more substantial!