ONE OF Western Europe's most impressive prehistoric sites and the third largest stone circle in the British Isles—Orkney's Ring of Brodgar—is the subject of a major archaeological project to start next week... continues...
There’s not much more I can add to what has already been written about what to me is the finest stone circle in Britain. Large enough to be awe inspiring, small enough to still feel intimate, remote enough to feel like you stand amidst the cyclopean remains of an ancient civilisation in the furthest flung corner of these islands, but accessible enough that you can drive right up to it (or roll up in a tour bus!). For me only Callanish comes close to giving this place a run for it’s money.
I’ve seen Brodgar in all weathers, only a few days ago it was snowing, I’ve also been here when it was so misty you could barely see the stones, and for a fantastic sunset, when in a Pythonesque moment a horde of photographers suddenly appeared from nowhere and proceeded to run around the circle with tripods, jostling for position, all of them in their quest for the best angle of the sunset through the stones. It’s no wonder as Brodgar is one of the most photogenic of ancient sites, and tonight, a clear Samhain evening we’ve come up to the circle to try some long exposure shots.
It’s cold, and a low mist clings to the henge ditch around the stones, amplifying the already otherworldly atmosphere. There is no sign of anyone else around, indeed this week on Orkney has been much quieter now we are out of season than our last trip in August, when regular visitors on the tour bus circuit could be guaranteed. We get our photos and as we walk away I look back at the circle, and marvel that something built so long ago can have such an effect on me today.
This is a place everyone who loves megalithic sites should visit, If I could only ever visit one ancient site again this would be it, my ‘Desert Island stone circle’! Brodgar is one of my special places, a truly sublime circle.
My initial impression was one of being surprised at how large the circle is.
I knew this was the 3rd largest in Britain but it still surprised me.
I visited the circle several times over the week in sunshine and rain; afternoon and evening.
Sometimes there were coach loads of people present, other times just a couple of people.
Another surprise is how difficult it is to photograph the circle due to its size and the fact it is built on a slope.
A footpath runs around the circle while the rest of the site is covered in heather.
Several small signs request you stay on the path to protect the site.
The standing stones are impressive although (in my opinion) not as impressive as the ones at Stenness. I wasn’t expecting to see the large cracks in most of the stones or the way the cracks had been filled with cement to help protect them.
A sign next to one stone states that it was struck by lightening in 1980. The lump of stone broken off lies next to the still standing section and it is blackened by the lightening strike.
As impressive as the stones is the surrounding ditch. This must have been a massive undertaking in its own right.
I enjoyed my visits to Brodgar and it is an obvious ‘must see’ site but somehow it didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor for me. I think I was still influenced by the stones at Stenness.
So, what to say about the Ring of Brodgar? It completely and utterly blew me away. I know, I know, I have said that sooooooo many time before but I could happily have stayed at this site all day. Other sites, that I have longed to see and then made the pilgrimage to, have sometimes had an anti-climatic feeling about them, but not here. As I approached the circle, I decided to take a slight detour and instead of heading straight to the stones, I turned away and walked towards the striking mound of Salt Knowe. I think I was just too overcome by the enormity of Brodgar and felt like I needed to get a different perspective of the stones and I am so glad I did. The view from here was just fabulous; looking towards the circle, you could really see the lie of the land and how the stones sit in the landscape. I finally headed towards the stones, skirting around them and then decided I still needed a different view, so headed straight towards the Comet Stone so see how the site looked from here. Again, a completely different perspective and from here you can see the whole circle against the horizon whereas from Salt Knowe you see the site within the landscape. The stones themselves are mighty beasts and almost too numerous to comprehend. Bloody hell, it is just awe-inspiring - this is a site that I need to return to and (hopefully) soon.
I visited Caithness, the Orkneys and the Shetlands last week. It was a tiring journey to the north of Scotland, made by coach over two days (a night in Stirling) but so very worth the effort. The highlight for me was without question the Ring Of Brodgar on the Orkneys; just now I did a search for it on TMA and found that other people felt the same way.
The light was the sort I have never experienced before; a crystal clear midsummer day and the whole island looked the brightest green-blue. I was out around Avebury today and struck by the fact that it has its own unique flora, wild grasses etc, today the scent of camomile was in the air. At the Ring of Brodgar it was heather - I was not prepared for the elation I experienced when walking up to the site, I did not want to leave. Sadly I had to, as was travelling with a group of people and at 11.00pm that night we boarded an overnight ferry to the Shetlands.
I am determined to go back and stay for at least a week - we also visited Scara Brae but it was the Ring of Brodgar, Stenness and Maes Howe that blew me away - astonishingly they mirror Avebury is many ways. Brodgar has the blue sea/loch; today, Avebury had a green sea of wild grasses and ripening barley/wheat fields.
I did not get to go inside Maes Howe this time as you have book in advance with Historic Scotland and they do not allow large groups in - so that will be a must when I go back (next year maybe). I noticed that buses run to these sites which is very helpful for people like myself who don't run a car.
This is it - the number one most awe-inspiring ancient site I have had the pleasure to visit. The photographs really don't do it justice. We visited in early September, and went there twice - the second time at midnight, under a completely clear sky, with beautiful twinkling northern lights, the solitary light of the Flotta Flare, and the huge expanse of the Milky Way directly above us. The lack of light pollution in this area (and I'm from Aberdeenshire, where it's not a major problem) means the night sky here is absolutely stunning.
The correct pronunciation is, according to a local tour-guide friend, 'brodjer' (with a slight nordic 'y' on the j). It's easily accessible, with an unobtrusive car park nearby. There are 28 stones remaining out of an original 60 (!), and stones 3, 4, 8 and 9, numbered clockwise from the NW entrance, have runic carving, a cross, an anvil, and an Ogham inscription (source for these last two facts: Janet and Colin Bord, 'A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain', 1978).
I've been struggling for ages now to know how to convey what I felt about Brodgar.
I have deep emotional attachments to two sites which have built up over years of repeated visits: Uffington White Horse and the Rollright stones. I am moved everytime I see them.
And though I am frequently 'wowed' by new places, rarely do I feel 'love at first sight' for a place. But Brodgar... whatever I say will not be enough. It is wild, carefree, astonishingly beautiful, rugged and -in the truest sense of the word- awesome.
The effort to get here is immediately rewarded and the length of the journey 100% worth it. It's situation on a ribbon of land between two lochs is a master stroke of dramatic genius from whoever decided to build it here. Each stone is gnarled, weather beaten and beautiful like the face of a beloved grandfather. And the angle of tilt of the henge reminded me of the angle of the tilt of the Earth itself.
In a matter of a few minutes we saw Brodgar in all weather conditions, the most stunning good fortune, however, was the appearance of rainbow, which turned this most magical of places into The Sublime.
We returned to Brodgar every day of our week on Orkney.
If you walk up to from the Stones of Stenness, careful not to end up in the middle of the rare lowland bog. It's full of special plants, and not well signposted if you go through the first gate by the comet stone.
The second gate is far better, as you can be sure of seeing the permissive path to the stones.
To the SW side, look out for the recumbent shattered stone, apparently hit by lightning.
I have a slight suspicion that the stone towards the NW, with a 'v'shaped notch in the top may be there to mark some sun-setting related event or other. It's nearly right for the sunset of the night before the summer solstice, but not quite.
Can't vouch for the claims that the stones have acoustic properties. I didn't want to make a racket.
Ring of Brodgar,
This was the next stop after the Stones of Stenness and before Skara Brae. The setting of these stones is truly awe-inspiring. The site is between two lochs and has an amazing banked ditch all round the circle. Okay- so the stones weren't as massive as Stenness, but the actual ring itself is huge. Not that many folk around which was cool- so went a bit trigger happy with the camera! Many of the stones have the same great sloping tops to 'em- like the Stenness stones.
Low ~1774 "[Stones of Stenness] not ditched about like ... [Ring of Brodgar]..but surrounded with a raised mound partly raised on the live earth, as the other was cut from it"
Wilson 1842 " the completer... circle of the... Stones of Stennis... as you approach them you pass here and there a solitary stone or broken remnant, as if there had been... a connecting range or approach, all the way from the bridge to the great circle. The latter is encompassed by a still entire mound, surrounded by a foss [sic], and there is a filling up of the foss and a lowering of the mound, just at two entrance places, opposite each other, north and south."
There were once two mounds by the ring, excavated away by James Farrar in 1861 [or the remains flattened later]. Though he placed these at the west and east sides he more specifically locates them at the NW and NE extremities. An indication of their height is that his men dug 22' deep vertical trenches into the subsoil, the former nine feet square and the latter thereabouts. The only finds from the mounds themselves were animal bones, mostly in the upper parts, but deeply embedded stones were found around the bases.
source : July 27th 1861 "The Orcadian"
The modern theory that most of the stones were floated across has had doubt cast upon it by the discovery that at that time the Loch of Stenness (at least to the north) rather than being an open body of water was marsh with a few lochans (much smaller bodies of water).
Source : Radio Orkney for April 21st[http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/radioscotland/programmes/orkney/ online for the day shortly]
Carved into the broken standing stone third clockwise from the north-west causeway entrance are some Norse 'twig' runes. Interesting reuse of the site or just 'I was ere' tourist graffiti? They haven't been satisfactorily translated, so who knows.