Archaeoptics, a team of scientists and archaeologists, conducted the digital scan, hailed as a major advance in archaeological techniques, which produced computerised three-dimensional images and analysis of the stones... continues...
How good can a stone circle be?
The stones should be much taller than me, they should be made of the most beautiful stone in the Isles, and they should be far away from centres of modern occupation, to keep Joe Public at bay and to increase the feeling of pilgrimage. I don't suppose it would hurt to put an even bigger stone in the middle of the circle, and whilst we're at it a pretty good chambered cairn could fit in there too, and why not have some stone rows leading away from it, five maybe. Throw in some alignments to moon sun and stars, is that too much?
The stones should be on a hill, not a big one, just high enough to be able to see the stones from far away, perhaps from some angles the hill could look like a Grand Carnac tumulus, but all this is pushing it a bit isn't it, this all but seems impossible. But lets push the boundaries of incredulousness even further, From the circle I want views of distant mountains, lochs and just to take it to the Nth degree other stone circles. I wouldn't like a cafe or a gift shop, but I could put up with them if entry to this wonder of wonders was free.
Bless my soul it is real, and I've been here twice now.
We got off the ferry at Leverburgh and drove briskly for Stornoway, hoping to find some normal food and to correct a tent malfunction, one out of two aint bad. Cor blimey Harris is a pretty place especially the north east quarter, it must have been heavily landscaped by the giants of old. And the mountain drive through the south of Lewis is exceptionally inspiring.
Stornoway wasn't like what I was expecting, it was quite a nice place. From there we headed straight for the stones of Callanish, it was about 9pm when we got there, there was one other car in the carpark.
Visiting a stone circle is a lot like a first date with a hot girl you've fancied for ages. Trust me, it is.
As we rounded the big rock Cnoc An Tursa the tops of the stones come into view over a low wall, the heart skips a beat and the hairs on the back of your neck stand to the accompaniment of goosebumps on the arms, sound familiar? Then through the gate and ignore the information boards,
fumble around for the camera and hands almost shaking take that first tentative photo, oh my god you're so beautiful, that gorgeous girl you've fancied for ages is standing before you bathed in evening sunlight and wearing nothing but a mischievous smile.
There may have been other people there, I know for sure that my son and dogs are here somewhere, but he can see I'm in love and he leaves me alone with the stones, I only have eyes for the stones, I can only think about the stones, there is nothing in the world but me and the stones of Callanish, only here do I fit the naked stone hugging hippy type that my mates at work laugh about.
After a while, who knows how long it was (30 minutes) Eric ridiculously suggests that we leave, I look at him like he's the maddest madman I've ever seen, I'm staying here forever, send for your sister. Instead I tell him, in a bit, I have to stare intently at these stones for about a million years.
All too soon a million years go by and it's getting dark, I cant abide the idea that I may never have this feeling again so I strike a deal, after we've been to all the places that I want to see tomorrow any spare time at the end will be spent here, he rarely sees me this passionate about anything so knows to give me what I want.
This is without doubt the greatest experience I have ever had at a prehistoric site.
I will do my best to adequately describe my feelings but I doubt I will do it justice.
After watching the sun go down the night before I just HAD to watch the sun rise. I awoke at 3.00am (to be honest I was so excited I hardly slept) quickly got dressed (warm clothing) and quietly left the B+B not to disturb anyone. It was dark but not so dark that you needed a light to get around. I decided that a walk was in order rather than drive to complete the ‘experience’.
A 20 minute stroll through the gloom and I was there.
Needless to say that I was the only person there (something I was pleased about) and I wandered thoughtfully around the stones. Although it was pretty dark the stones seemed to radiate the little light there was and (I know this will sound strange) seemed to ‘glow’ in the darkness. It was very odd that the stones appeared very clear and ‘illuminesant’ when all around was darkness; with the silhouette of the mountains in the distance.
I am sure that anyone who has visited the Western isles (or Orkney or Shetland for that matter) will know that there is a near permanent wind present (not helped by a lack of trees). This can vary from a gentle breeze to a full on gale but it is always present. Well, here was one occasion when there was no wind at all. Not only was there no wind but there was also no noise – complete silence. This obviously added to the experience.
After about 30 minutes when I just sat there trying to take the experience in the dawn chorus started. First just the one bird but quickly joined by several others. About 15 minutes later the lambs in the fields started to away and joined in with their bleating. This was soon followed by a distant cockerel announcing the start of another day. Magical.
I sat and watched in awe as the distant horizon started to get lighter and the black sky turned to dark blue and then lighter blue – one or two small clouds silhouetting black in the sky. I had now been amongst the stones for nearly 2 hours and cannot describe how different the experience is compared with a day time visit. At last it was time for the sun to make an appearance. I carefully position myself within the stones as watched as the top edge of the sun blazed out from behind a mountain – the camera was doing overtime!
To say this was a magical experience is quite frankly doing it an injustice.
With 5 minutes the sun was fully up and the event was over. I walked back to the B+B not feeling tired or cold but feeling elated, excited and overwhelmed by my experience. It was now 5.30am. I put the kettle on and looked at the pictures I had taken. One was (in my opinion) superb and shows the top edge of the sun rising above the mountain with the standing stones silhouetted black in the foreground. I plan to get this enlarged and framed so I can hang in on my wall. I couldn’t wait for Karen to awake so I could share my excitement.
I will never forget my experience at Callanish. It has had a permanent effect on me and whilst I was watch the sun come up I felt a sort of ‘connection’ with those that had come before me. I know this may sound like nonsense (and perhaps it is) but it is how I felt nonetheless.
If you ever get the opportunity to watch the sunrise at Callanish on a crystal clear morning please do so. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Up early with the children whilst Karen had a lie in.
How to keep the children occupied for an hour?
Erm……… I know – how about a walk to Callanish?!!
I strapped Sophie into the buggy, stood Dafydd on the buggy board and we were away.
One 20 minute slog pushing them both uphill later and we were there.
It was another lovely sunny day and I promised the children an ice cream if they behaved (perhaps that should be bribed?). We went into the visitor centre and I had a quick look around the shop – not bad actually. I then paid my £2.50 to watch a 5 minute film presentation on the standing stones (rip off but at least I didn’t have to pay for the children). The H.S guide book is very good and well worth buying.
We exited the visitor centre and walked up the path towards the stones. It seemed a bit strange to now be approaching the stones from this direction but it was good to view things differently. There were quite a few people about but not too many to spoil things.
This was my first daylight look at the stones and the swirls and patterns in the stones really stood out. Every time I looked at the stones I noticed something different – it was like seeing the stones for the first time.
Towering above everything of course was the huge central stone. When you get up close to it you realise how tall it is – a wonderful stone.
Sophie and Dafydd played in the central cairn whilst I took in the surroundings.
This really is a magnificent place to visit. One can only wonder how it would have appeared to the ancients seeing it for the first time.
Time for that ice cream I promised (bribed)
The following day we returned to the stones with Karen in tow. This time we drove and parked next to the visitor’s centre. In the field next to the car park were a sow and a litter of about 10 piglets. As soon as they saw us the piglets (pink with black spots) ran under the fence, out of the field and straight towards Sophie and Dafydd. They thought it was amazing and laughed as the piglets ran around them. The piglets followed us all the way to the entrance before running back down the slope into the field.
After a quick look around the visitor centre again we all headed up to the site and I was interested to hear what Karen thought? Now Karen isn’t one to enthuse about ‘old stones’ (although to be fair she isn’t anti them either) but it’s not really her ‘thing’. So I was surprised and pleased to hear her say how much she liked this place and see her go off taking photos of the stones from all angles and point out ‘faces’ in the stones. She had to wait quite a while for a photo of the tallest stone as a woman insisted on stroking it for an unhealthy length of time!
Dafydd then insisted of giving his mum a personal ‘guided tour’ of the cairn and explained in detail what it was used for, what was inside it and how you entered! Karen displayed her usual patience on such occasions. Sophie smiled her smile at the ‘presentation’ before her.
This time our visit was in cloudy weather and yet again different patters emerged form the stones in the varying light – incredible. We walked the avenue and along each of the axis, studying each stone and admiring the patterns and swirls. By now it was getting busier and by the time the second coach had arrived we decided it was time to go and get another ice cream.
It sure is hard leaving a place like Callanish but we had a full days exploring ahead of us.
Where do I start? What can I say that hasn’t been said before? – Probably not much.
I won’t talk too much about the stones themselves as there is nothing new to say. Instead I will try to recount my ‘feelings’ when visiting the site to watch the sun set, the sun rise and in the middle of the day.
As the B+B we were staying in was only a 15 minute walk away I was lucky enough to visit the stones several times. (You could see the stones from the bedroom window!).
I guess I have now spent more hours at Callanish than any other prehistoric site I have visited – not a bad thing!
The ‘sunset visits’ – 30.5.12 and 1.6.12
After a long days travelling we got to the B+B and collapsed on the bed. However, it didn’t take long to recover once we had had a cuppa! I looked out of the window and saw a dark blue sky and the standing stones calling me – how could I resist?
Karen fully understood (bless her) and she stayed with the children while I headed up the road. I did take a jacket but left my shorts on – not a good idea it turned out! I followed the road (signposted Post Office – which was actually someone’s house!) up hill which came out at the car park next to the standing stones. This was not the road which leads to the visitor centre and official car park.
There were a couple of people milling around (mostly Scandinavian) who stood primed with their cameras to capture the sun setting on a clear evening. My initial thoughts when seeing the stones was surprise that the site wasn’t bigger, although the individual stones are of an impressive size – particularly the tallest stone. I was also struck by the swirling patterns in the stone which seemed to captivate visitors – myself included. These seemed to change when viewed at different angles and you could not help but run your hands along the swirls and contours of the stones.
The wind by now had picked up and the temperature dropped as the sun started to set. Everyone else was wrapped up in ski jackets, woolly hats, scarves etc and there was I in a light summer jacket and shorts – much to their amusement! I took my photos as the sun set and headed back to the warmth of the B+B. By the time I got back I was freezing (not helped by being unwell) and I spent a long time in the shower warming up.
My second sunset visit was the following evening – this time properly prepared with padded trousers, jacket and hat. By now I was feeling much better and enjoying my visit a lot more.
It was another cloudless evening and there were only a couple of local dog walkers for company this time.
I again walked amongst the stones, stoking the contours (you really can’t help it!) and spotting more swirls and patterns within the stones. I walked up and down and up and down again, marvelling at the stones and generally appreciating the stones a lot more than I did the night before. The site somehow seemed bigger as well. It was still windy.
I looked around and admired the views of lochs and hills, changing appearance in the diminishing light. I still hadn’t seen ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in all her glory yet – but that would change! There are certainly worse places to be than sunset at Callanish……….
I spent a week on the Isle of Lewis and visited all the stone sites but the main Callanish site was breathtakingly beautiful. I spent a day with Margaret Curtis and we toured the stones and talked for hours. She is so knowledgable about the stones and she has great insights. The were lots of midges and that was frustrating but it didn't take away any of the magic of the place.
I wne back again the next evening to see the sunset and we were the only people there- it was wonderful to have time alone at the site. I'm really looking forward to going back.
Next time I plan to meet with Jill Smith, author of The Callanish Dance.
Very, very interesting guided tour with Margaret who lives nearby, as mentioned in Julian's book. It's like some sort of partial programming into the magic of the temple. Magic to do with changing reality real time... instant magic I mean... from the individual perspective, and crucially tribal wide. This now being contained by the 'men in black'. (Masonic type dodge Christian ritual child abuse negation of goddess reality) I actually read recently that in the 19th Century the locals used to use the temple as a toilet... men in black as I said. Ever experienced instant space time travel? You could do if programmed by Margaret ! Actually as their are a lot of blagging hippies around (rather than the real thing), its probably best that Margaret doesn't know all the program! Its kinda like intellect can be 'read' by thieves, whereas the unknown is the unknown... the unknowable. Incredible magic.
...just to add (and this may seem harsh to locals)...if the Temple and ancestors were to be properly honoures (and thus the magic/goddess), the following should be enacted:
Clear all habitation/buildings/roads/artificial lighting etc etc etc from sight/near distance of the Temple complex. The area to be grazed by sheep.
Living in the south west of England, Calanais represented the one pilgrimage I felt desperate to make ... so we did it for our honeymoon. It's a long trip by car to Ullapool then across to Stornoway on the ferry. This was in April 2005 and on the calm, quiet but chilly afternoon of our visit we were the only two visitors at the time. A fantastically powerful setting, but at the same time there was an air of touristy Avebury or Stonehenge about it. Not a criticism, just that I find my favourite places off the beaten track. I've fallen in love with Calanais and Lewis as a whole. I can't wait to go back.
After a child friendly visit during the day, we went back in the dark, with a big lamp, to see if side-lighting would pick out the putative cup mark on the central stone (See Kammer's photo). Unfortunately, no joy, the photos were blurry and filled with noise.
In retrospect, it was easier to see the possible cupmark in daylight. It's definitely a small circular depression, but is it natural or man made? Without other examples of cup marks in gneiss to use as points of reference, I think it's impossible to say one way or the other. A close study of the occurance of similar features may indicate statistical corellation, but even then I supppose that's not proof of artificial origin.
Stone circles are extra-wonderful places when experienced in the dark. Both here and Avebury give out a totally diffferent type of somethingness when visited at night compared to that which they give out during the day.
A long, difficult, pilgrimage to this site for us - we came up from Plymouth by Motorcycle. Staying in North Uist, we got the Sound of Harris ferry over in bright sunshine in the morning, but by the time we had got to Lewis it was raining and blowing a gale. The weather got worse and worse, blowing us around on the road, but Callanish was worth it. The conditions meant that we had the site basically to ourselves - a truly amazing site that we had both longed to see, and it certainly did not disappoint. A really great visit to a wild, lonely temple, and, if anything, a harder return journey.
Saturday 3 May 2003
Well, where do I start? Probably like many people, with my expectations.
There is an element almost of confession here. This is one reason it has taken me nearly 2 months to write this. It's now getting on for 4 months since I was actually there.
If you've reached here via my weblogs, you'll know that this was a very special trip for me. Not only had I been longing to see the place for many years, but turmoil in my personal life had added an extra, emotional 'charge' that is unusual for me when visiting a site. And it lived up to every expectation. Eventually.
Right up until I turned the corner on the path from the visitors' centre and saw the stones from anything other than a distance, everything was fine and my expectations were undented.
So, I turned the corner, and… I really can't say whether it was the view approaching from that direction, or whether it was sheer weight of expectation, but I knew straight away… To my total astonishment, I just didn't 'get' it.
All those years. All those miles… and I was just looking at some more rocks. A lot of rocks. A lot of beautiful rocks. But still 'just' a lot of rocks.
I was quietly mortified. I couldn't even blame crowds – we saw maybe 3 people in the hour or so we spent there before I was happy (almost relieved) to go to Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag and Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàrraidh.
Of course the setting is beautiful. Of course the place is spectacular. Of course the sheer number and sizes of the stones are massively impressive. Of course the stones are intriguing shapes and colours and textures.
But there was no feeling of inspiration or even reverence that I have felt at a few very special sites. No feeling of 'homecoming' or perhaps 'belonging' that I have felt at some sites. No real connection, no real understanding.
Sunday 4 May 2003
On my second visit, the following day, it began to dawn on me however – expectation and understanding were the whole problem for me. Before visiting most sites I read a little bit about them in fairly 'analytical' Burl (usually) type terms – maybe read a few comments on this website or in the big papery TMA.
With this limited preparation I don't expect to understand them or connect with them. It's just not normally an issue. If I do – great. If I don't – I'll have enjoyed seeing them anyway.
With Callanish though, there was a whole lot more – an entire chapter in Julian's book. Various telly progs including Julian's. And more recently, a couple of other books. I approached the place thinking (subconsciously) that I understood – that I knew what to expect. So when I didn't I was confused, disappointed and bewildered.
This feeling of realisation increased steadily and luckily it was convenient to revisit regularly over the 3 days and I was able to discover Callanish as I actually see it – not as I expected to see it.
Seeing it with too many expectations was, for me like photos of the complete Callanish I from ground level. They never quite really show it. I've seen great pictures of it – there are some good ones on this site and I took some that I'm pleased with, but they still neverquite do it.
It's one of those places where I cannot see how a photographer can capture the full picture. The complexity and sheer number of stones makes it seem confusing in photos, yet makes perfect sense as you walk it on the ground.
Monday 5 May 2003
By my fourth and final visit (for now) I was happy. Right now at 11pm on Monday 18 August 2003, I could happily stand between the northern rows facing the circle and laugh and shout for joy. It's awesome. Not a word I normally use. Ever.
Finally got here - it always seemed like one of those things I'd "get to do one day" and now I finally have!
Today was the day - unfortunately, it was absolutely bucketing it down and the stones were in the presence of some VERY LOUD Norwegians, so after about 10 mins, we aborted the trip and will be returning tomorrow....hopefully better weather and less obtrusive people will make the return journey more pleasant!!
That said, it was still the most stunning of places and well worth the 2 day journey, the 5.30am ferry and the very wet feet to witness it!!
Now we all know that Lewis is one of the places to go if your interesting in antiquity and stone circles etc. Lewis plays host to Callanish a wonderful place which evokes mystery and wonder. But Lewis also offers so much more, stone circles, brochs, duns, menhirs, Vikings, blackhouses, scenery and water lots and lots of water.
We wandered first to the impossible to pronounce Cnoc Fillibhear Bheag. The ground was marshy and the rain had started to pour down. Not that we were too bothered; to wander round all the Callanish circles had been another main point to the trip.
A path links Cnoc to another circle a couple of hundred metres away known as Cnoc Ceann a’Gharraidh. A place with an equally long and difficult name and which boasts quite a cool triangular stone which we took the opportunity to shelter behind whilst the wind threatened to blow us into the bog. Callanish could be seen in the distance its stones like needles sticking up from the ground.
I had been there once before again in 1996, but my friend had not. I had been impressed with its size and complexity then and now my feelings remained. What went on here really? Why was it built? All these questions penetrate your head as you weave your way through the stones.
It was 8pm by the time we got to Callanish, a good time it seems as all the crowds had long since left. A couple who were also wandering around told us that they had been there earlier that afternoon and the place was just heaving with a combination of tourists and druids. Druids! Of course! The summer solstice was only two days away. Not that we’d be here for that unfortunately, we had a tight schedule to work to. Maybe next year…
What can I say that hasn't already been said?! We finally made it there (it only took us seven years!) I was pregnant, the sheep were pregnant and a sheep dog led us from our B&B three miles up the road, to the stones... I think overwhelming has to be the word.
What can you say about this place? You have to go, even though it's a bit of a pilgrimage...I first visited last year for a few days, then felt drawn back and spent a week there this summer, staying in Ann + Angus Smith's holiday cottage - an ideal location less than 10 minutes walk from the site.
The site is almost painfully impressive - maybe because of its scale or state of preservation - or maybe because of the nature of the stone that makes it. When you then add in the lunar (and solar) calculating factor one's mind becomes blown! I found it was very difficult to stay in the present time when there - there seems such a sense of history; but also a sense of drama and maybe theatricality.
When you go you MUST meet up with Margaret Curtis (see Gyrus's post ). By all means visit yourself first - but you'll never see it the same way once you've done a walkround with her. She'll show you the burial cairn by her house(ruthlessly bisected by the road builders several years ago) which she reckons is the start of the place of procession to the site itself - maybe a mile up the slopes, much in the way one might imagine processing up the Avenue at Abury...then the alignments of the stones, the "windows" between various pairs of stones which align with landscape points relevant to moon set/sunrise etc.
One of my pleasures when staying for a week was to walk up to the stones after sunset and sit, in the starlight, in splendid isolation, playing appropriate sounds on my walkman - Odin worked particularly well! After an hour or so, it becomes as close to a shamanic experience as I've had anywhere (even the midges ceased to concern me).
It really is a must!
I first heard of Callanish after someone lent me a copy of Jehovahkill. It came at a time in my life that was bland and empty. After a few weeks of increasing pondering I decided to go there and experience it myself. I lived in Bournemouth and decided to cycle there. (I know. eveyone says I'm mad!) But I wanted to get there without contributing to the mayhem on the roads and in the atmosphere. I guess you could call it a pilgrimage of sorts.
I went through Wales and up the west coast of Scotland, Isle of Arran, Skye and eventually Outer Hebrides. I took about four three weeks to get there, and over 1000 miles of peddling!
When I got to the stones of Callanish it was worth every push of those peddles! What an awesome sight, atmosphere and island. I ended up camping in Callanish II (though at the time I didn't know it was called that, I stumbled upon it whilst looking for somewhere to camp). Overlooking Loch Roag the weather closed in, misty rain, it was July but it was cold!
It was so weird at Callanish I, a familiarity and calmness engulfed me, I didn't want to leave! I've posted a full account of my journey on my website: http://www.keirle.freeserve.co.uk
When I first read about the Callanish stones in The Modern Antiquarian I was fascinated but, living on the south coast, I didnÍt ever think I would see them first hand. Then a friend e-mailed me and said "Callanish, do you wanna go?" And that was that. Thanks to the internet we got loads of info and literally in one day we had made all the necessary arrangements.
We flew from Gatwick to Inverness, drove to Ullapool in a hire car, caught the ferry, drove from Stornaway and finally arrived at the Doune Braes Hotel.
We had arranged to meet Margaret Curtis the next morning, but couldn't resist having a sneaky peek first. Nothing can describe the feeling, driving up the road, with the stones on the horizon. Then to get out and walk around was simply amazing. The best was yet to come.
To travel all that way and not meet Margaret would be foolish. She is the icing on the cake. To see the stones is one thing. Some of the things that she showed us literally, blew our minds. The alignments, the stories, the history. Those lumps of rock stuck in the ground suddenly became alive through the extent of her knowledge and her enthusiasm. We spent three hours with her and came away feeling like we'd read three books.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the stones. Staining them indelibly on our psyche. The next day we had to get the afternoon ferry back. We went back to the stones in the morning for a last look, then went to say goodbye to Margaret and Ron. As I left I got a feeling, a feeling that although I was leaving, spiritually I was still there. A feeling that told me that I would have to one day go back. For what it cost to get there I could have gone abroad for a week. I would have come home with a suntan that would be long gone by now. But I went to Callanish and came back with a feeling that will stay with me forever.
Amazed that this is the first review up here - but then, it's a trek and a half to Callanish! When I arrived it was pissing down. The journey, especially the ferry across, was very exciting, but this didn't rise to a peak as I approached the site, as I thought it may. I edge round the stones in the rain, then decided to go find Margaret and Ron Curtis.
Instantly had a ball in their exhibition shed: Margaret got me contstructing mini stone circles in circular sand pits, and I learnt more about stone circles in 15 minutes than I done reading many books. Margaret's such an enthusiastic and clear communicator. Then we helped Ron outside - he was experimenting with ways of erecting stones using wooden tripods and twisting rope - great fun!
The next day I was treated to great weather - sunny and windy (no midges!) - and to a comprehensive tour of the area by Margaret. She charges £20 an hour for tours, and believe me it's worth it. I had naively assumed the idiosyncratic 'skew-whiff' plan of Callanish was at least partly due to innaccurate construction. Pah! After half an hour, Margaret had me gobsmacked at the pinpoint precision underlying the apparent chaos of angles and lines.
There's a path around the circle that you're advised to keep to, but of course no one does. The first time I entered the circle itself was with Margaret - I didn't feel like doing so when I first arrived - and for a good 5 minutes or so, it was an effort to concentrate on the information she was giving me. The sheer overwhelming buzz of being up-close to those magnificent gneiss columns just made me grin and reel.
One thing worth noting is that there's one of the best places to camp ever here - just past the visitors centre on the little peninsula sticking out between Loch Roag and Loch Hullavig. Not an official camp site, but no one minds you there if you take care of the place, and the visitors centre leave the toilets open all night. Nice one.
At the head of one of the inlets in Loch Benera is a megalithic cruciform, Drudicial circle, called the Circle of Callernish. This Druidicial temple is one of the largest, as well as one of the most complete of its kind in Scotland. The total number of stones, when the temple was complete, was sixty five, of which about forty five are still standing, ranging from sixteen to four feet tall.
In the immediate neighbourhood are several smaller circles, some of them, being as large as fifty feet in diameter. The circle occupies a striking position in an open track of moor, and appears to have been surrounded at a small distance by a trench or ditch, which is now in many places obscured, the sames as at Stenneshouse, Orkney and Stonehenge, England. It is thought by some that these stone circles may have been places of worship, erected by the Norsemen, as in some Northern sagas; the temple of Thor is described as a circular range of upright stones, containing a central stone, called the stone of Thor, where the sacrifices or executions were performed.
Destination St Kilda 'From Oban to Skye and the Outer Hebrides'
George Washington Wilson and Norman MacLeod edited by Mark Butterworth
The most remarkable Stones for Number, Bigness, and Order, that fell under my Observation, were at the Village of Classerniss; where there are 39 Stones set up 6 or 7 foot high, and 2 foot in breadth each: they are plac'd in form of an Avenue, the breadth of which is 8 foot, and the distance between each Stone six; and there is a Stone set up in the Entrance of this Avenue: at the South end there is join'd to this Range of Stone a Circle of 12 Stones of equal distance and height with the other 39. There is one set up in the Centre of this Circle, which is 13 foot high, and shap'd like the Rudder of a Ship: without this Circle there are 4 stones standing to the West, at the same distance with the Stones in the Circle; and there are 4 Stones set up in the same manner at the South and East sides.
I enquir'd of the Inhabitants what Tradition they had from their Ancestors concerning these Stones; and they told me, it was a Place appointed for Worship in the time of Heathenism, and that the Chief Druid or Priest stood near the big Stone in the center, from whence he address'd himself to the People that surrounded him.
.. the Callinish Stones .. by very long tradition are looked upon as 'countless' locally..
.. Mackenzie [in 'History of the Outer Isles, 1903] mentions a very early tradition which associates the Callinish Stones with the tombs of warriors slain in battle.
You can't help feeling wary of 'very long traditions' but that's just how you relate folklore I suppose - you know, once upon a time. From the 'Letters to the Editor' section:
F. H. Amphlett Micklewright
Folklore, Vol. 87, No. 1. (1976), pp. 115-116.
Between Garbert and Shader, on a rifing ground, there are the remains of a very extenfive double circle. Some of the ftones about the inner circle, which are pretty large, appear to have been thrown down by violence. It is not unlikely, that at the introduction of Chriftianity, the votaries of a new religion would find fome merit in deftroying every memorial of the antient fuperftition : The violence with which this zeal raged, at a more enlightened period, muft be always regretted by every admirer of Scottish antiquities. I muft not omit, that thefe ftones, whole fize certainly required fome machinery to rear them up, are entirely rude; have no marks of the chiflel; and at a diftance make a very grotefque appearance ; that at Calernifh is called by the country people, na Fhirr Chrace, who, they fay, were thus metamorphofed into ftones while dancing.
Colin McKenzie, An Account of some Remains of Antiquity in the Island of Lewis, one of the Hebrides. In Archaeologica Scotica: transactions of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Volume 1 (1792), online (complete with f shaped s's) at http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/cfm/archway/toc.cfm?rcn=2917&vol=1
There is more to the story of the White Cow associated with the Callanish Stone Circle. It is said that a woman was on the point of throwing herself into the see and drowning at a time of famine in the area when a beautiful white cow appeared from the sea. It ordered her to take her milking pail to Callanish, where she and her neighbours were able to milk it each night.
Everyone was able to milk a single pail until a witch came and milked the cow into a sieve until she was dry. The cow vanished from Lewis and never returned. (Source; Secret Britain, Guild Publishing, London).
More folklore connected with Callanish is that it was a traditional place to exchange betrothal vows. Any marriage consummated amongst the stones would be especially happy.
(from Grinsell's collected folklore of prehistoric sites)
TomBo's story below is very reminiscent of the story told at Mitchell's Fold.
In 'the Secret Country' the Bords add the weird information that the white cow (white with red ears perhaps - a typical otherworldly animal) appeared 'in the sea' at this time of famine. It politely interrupted a woman who was so desperate she was intent on drowning herself - telling her to go to the Callanish stones with her neighbours and a couple of pails. I wonder why it should have originated in the sea?
"Another story tells how in a time of famine a white cow appeared from the sea and directed the women to take their milk pails to the old stone circle, where she provided everyone with a pailful of milk each night. A witch tried to get two pailsful but without success, so she returned next time with a sieve with which she milked the cow dry. After that it was never again seen at Callanish stones."
- Janet & Colin Bord, A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain
The story about St Kieran has him turn the giants to stone when they don't listen. Perhaps this is a bit of a joke, because the 6th century saint never left Ireland (from Burl's Carnac to Callanish). Maybe this is a bit like the folklore motif of stones moving when they hear the church clock (stones can't hear - or else the church doesn't have a clock). Otherwise, a bit unfair as I'm sure his voice wasn't loud enough for the giants to hear.
This is nothing like any image you may have seen or article you may have read. Callinish is awesome, yet intimate. Its three dimensional artistry stimulates our senses out of their two dimensional torpor.
Isn't it wonderful that there are somethings more amazing than can ever be dreamt of by the marketing men, or sanitised by digital enhancement!
Alexander Thom describes his first visit to Callanish, the beginning of his lifetime megalithic quest:
"The Sound of Harris is the only passage to the Atlantic in the 100 miles chain of the Outer Hebrides, and after a hard sail from the Sound we put in to West Loch Roag, in north western Lewis. Passing through the Barragloam Narrows we proceeded in the gloaming up East Loch Roag as far as my chart allowed me to go with safety. I was navigating with care; finally the anchor went over and the sails came down. As we stowed sail, we looked up and saw the rising moon. Silhoetted on the moon's disc like great fingers were the stones of Tursachan Callanish. That evening, since I had been concentrating on navigation as darkness was approaching, I did not know how near we were to the main Callanish site... I never forgot that visit to the site in the moonlight. The long days of buffeting in the Atlantic made one ready to appreciate the quiet and perfect anchorage. At the site one could not but be affected by the surroundings - the mystery of the unknown terrain - the loch lying quiet below and above all the towering stones of the most unspoilt monolithic structure in Britain."
(from Walking in all of the Squares: Alexander Thom, Engineer and Archaeoastronomer by Archibald S. Thom, his son)
At the Stones of Callanish
a poem by Iain Crichton Smith
(from Collected Poems, 1992, Carcanet Press)
At the Stones of Callanish yesterday I heard one woman saying to another: 'This is where they burnt the children in early times'. I did not see druids among the planets nor sun nor robe: but I saw a beautiful blue ball like heaven cracking and children with skin hanging to them like the flags in which Nagasaki was sacrificed.
From British Archaeology
Magazine Issue 63
Memories of Callanish
Aubrey Burl on his discovery that folk memories of the circle’s original alignment had survived for 1000 years
Even after 40 years of studying stone circles I have never lost my sense of their romance. But perhaps my favourite find was not the discovery of a previously unknown circle, but of some intriguing information about one of the best-known circles of all - Callanish on the Isle of Lewis.
I first went to Callanish in 1976. I had just finished an excavation in northern Scotland and I thought it would be rather pleasant to go across to the Hebrides to have a look at this marvellous site. It was a remarkably hot day - we had to shelter behind one of the stones while I was taking some notes because we needed some shade.
I was taken aback by the site. It is a unique place because the stones are very tall, with a huge central stone, an avenue and stone rows. It probably started off as a single standing stone, like a navigational marker for sailors - there are a lot of stones like that in the Hebrides on the coast - and then presumably acquired some sanctity, and people put up the stone circle, then added the avenue and the rows, and then they poked a little chambered tomb inside in the end.
About four years later, I was reading a book called The Sphinx and the Megaliths by John Ivimy, who had the belief that Stonehenge was put up by Egyptian astronomer-priests because they wanted an observatory in a part of the world with uncluttered skies! Anyway, this book contained a reference to the 1st century BC Greek writer Diodorus Siculus, who had described a 'spherical temple' where Apollo (the sun or moon) 'skimmed the earth at a very low height'. Ivimy assumed that Diodorus was writing about Stonehenge, referring to an eyewitness report of an explorer who had actually seen the place.
But as soon as I read about Apollo skimming the earth I knew this couldn't be Stonehenge, because at Stonehenge's latitude both the sun and the moon are always very high above the horizon. To see that phenomenon (the moon or sun hardly rising above the horizon between rising and setting) you have to go about 500 miles further north, and I wondered if Diodorus might have been referring to Callanish.
Then Diodorus goes on to say: 'In that temple, at the rising of the Pleiades, the sun is seen to set at the equinox'. And those two phenomena do also occur uniquely at Callanish. The ENE stone row at Callanish was in line with the rising of the Pleiades in the early Bronze Age, and the western stone row does point towards the setting of the sun at the equinox. So three independent lines of astronomical evidence point to Callanish; and that is very convincing.
It is accepted that Diodorus took his information about Britain from the earlier, lost, writer Hecataeus of Abdera, who himself drew on the lost writings of the 4th century BC Greek explorer Pytheas. Now what is remarkable is that by the time Pytheas got to Callanish, the Pleiades would have risen a few degrees to the north-east of the ENE stone row. The Pleiades - whose movements can be dated - had risen in alignment with the row for a few centuries after about 1700 BC (which is presumably when the row was built), but since then had edged away.
So Pytheas seems to have been reporting a folk memory of the connection between the circle and the Pleiades that had survived at Callanish for at least 1,000 years, long after the circle had gone out of use. This may seem incredible but we know from other societies that oral traditions can survive for many, many centuries even though their original use has long since been abandoned.
Strangely enough, years later when I wrote a book about stone rows, I suggested - quite independently of Callanish - that short stone rows (the type found at Callanish) were erected about 1800-1500 BC. And there you go, the Pleiades are rising at Callanish right in the middle of that range.
Aubrey Burl's revised 'Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany' was recently published by Yale University Press
'Calanais' Meets The Olde Tea-Shoppe, an essay by Aubrey Burl, from British Archaeology Magazine, protesting at changes to the traditional names of stone circles. Burl argues that Callanish is the true name of this site, and that Calanais is "a whimsicality".