|Visited 11th May 2014
This was near the top of my list of must visit places on Shetland, and with the sun making an appearance through the clouds, bringing some warmth to the day, and our time left on Shetland fast diminishing, we headed for Shetland’s ‘wild west’ and the enigmatic Stanydale.
On what felt like a road to nowhere a sign and parking spot soon makes itself visible, and we squeeze the car into the layby. It feels remote here, and is one of the few places on Shetland where we’re not able to see the sea.
Setting off across the slightly squelchy moorland it’s not long before we arrive at the Neolithic house not far from the temple. Like Carl before us we sit in the remains of this ancient dwelling, and just take in the atmosphere. Cracking open the Thermos we have a cup of tea, drinking in the peace and quiet as much as the PG Tips, and wondering what the venerable farmer who constructed this place would have thought about a pair of visitors supping tea in his house some four millennia later?
As we press on for the temple, shadows from the clouds and ever changing light play across the heath and with only the lonely cries of birds as a soundtrack we feel as if we’ve stepped into another world. Soon the structure of the ‘temple’ is visible, the small wooden gate guarding the entrance opening into a well-kept interior, the grass mown to a standard that wouldn’t look out of place on the greens of a championship golf course.
It’s certainly an unusual place. Thick stone walls delineate a horseshoe shaped building, which apparently, according to the conclusions of an excavation in 1949, was similar in size and plan to temples found on Malta, hence leading to Stanydale’s ‘temple’ epithet. Inside the enclosure the large stones which make up the walls are chunky blocks, rare in this vicinity, and so again according to the 1949 dig, must have been brought some distance, a lot of trouble to go to if it was purely meant as a domestic structure perhaps, as there are plenty of suitable other types of stone for building nearby. Looking closely at the large upright stones as well I’m struck by the natural patterns on them, different coloured shapes on the stone caused by lichens giving a mosaic like effect. There are also two large postholes inside, from which charred spruce was found, the nearest source of which in Neolithic times would have been Scandinavia, unless of course they were found as driftwood?
I have a wander around the exterior, taking in the standing stones which are dotted around the perimeter of the temple. There appears to be a defined arc of stones to the south, perhaps the structure was once surrounded by them, but now it’s difficult to make out the overall layout of the stones.
Sitting back inside Stanydale to write my notes I’m struck but what a strange and unique place it is. It seems much more than just a grand dwelling, or even a fancy ‘village hall’ type of meeting place, something about its layout, the exterior stones, and three fire hearths (which again according to the excavations were not typical of domestic settings). It strikes me that I’m reminded of the main structure at Barnhouse, near Stenness on Orkney, where I was sitting only a week ago. Although the design of the two structures are very different, something about them feels the same, and I’m convinced this place had a ritual function, an old cliché I know, and based on little more than my own ‘feelings’ of the place and some sketchy evidence (no wonder I never got that Archaeology degree!)
What I can say with certainty is that Stanydale is most certainly a great place to visit. It feels both remote and welcoming, certainly unique, and a perfect place to spend some time, sheltered here from the wind, with the sun overhead, we just don’t want to leave. Magical.
Posted by Ravenfeather
12th July 2014ce