We’ve visited Stenness several times already on this trip to Orkney, but on our way back to Kirkwall after a trip to Hoy, the glorious sunshine was too tempting and so we called in at the stones.
The first time you approach the stones the scale of them hits you, along with their amazing tapering shapes. As the afternoon sun casts long shadows the megaliths look as if they could be an art installation or sculpture park, so forward thinking was the selection and placement of the stones. The good weather has brought other tourists out, and the interior of the circle has somewhat of a festival atmosphere as children play at the base of the stones whilst a man gently strums a mandola and couples hand in hand stroll around the circle. It feels joyous and it is.
The heavily denuded remains of the henge around the circle is still visible, and from the centre the hills of Hoy dominate the horizon as I gaze west. When once a full complement of stones stood around the circle you can only imagine the impact this place would have had in the heart of the most sacred area on Orkney. Its just a pity that eejits such as W. Mackay (a ‘ferry-louper’ if ever there was one) did such damage to the site in 1814.
Stenness though is such an iconic site, and normally one of the first places I stop when arriving on Orkney, it’s got special memories for me, and continues to call me back, and I’m sure anyone who visits will feel its call too..
I won’t bother to describe the stones in any detail as it has already been done by many others before me. All I would say is that they are a lot taller in real life than they appear in photos.
They are certainly the best standing stones I have ever seen which make up a stone circle.
I visited the stones several times during my week on Orkney as they are so worthy a visit, so easy to visit and you tend to pass then whilst going to other sites around Orkney.
The first time I visited was under a cloudless evening when I had the place to myself.
I also visited in the rain and biting wind when I had coach loads of people for company!
A good way to see the stones is sat in the window of the ice cream parlour!
(The Orkney coconut ice cream is probably the best I have ever tasted – you, yum!)
Approach to the Stones of Stenness during a field trip to Orkney in April 2010, it was BALTIC!!!, that said Stenness, & Brodgar almost made it worthwhile. Imuch prefer these sites in the warmth though like I did months later.
It was a typical Orkney day in-so-much as the weather changed constantly and the wind was howling. Living where I do, I am used to REALLY windy weather but still found it exhilarating and was just amazed by how big the sky was. The flatness of the landscape and the ferocity of the wind was just fabulous. When we got to the stones, we were giddy with the sheer beauty of it all and ran round like a group of school children at playtime! Again, these are stones I have seen many times on TV and read about, so finally seeing them up close and personal was just amazing. I knew all about how slender some of the stones are; we have all seen pictures where they look like they are made out of balsa wood and are about to break in two, but was I was not aware of was how beautifully patterned the actual stone was. What must this have looked like when it was a complete circle, with 12 stones standing proud, instead of just the four that remain?
Videod the site yesterday, first round the whole site then circling the indivisual elements. and observed that most components had an orientation to the Bigswell area (where there used to be a Johnsmas fire on the hillside) - do the alignments we recognise for such places hold primacy or does survival and/or our perception of significance affect our judgement ?
This didn't immediately 'wow' me like I thought it would. It wasn't that I was disappointed exactly but I didn't get that 'buzz'. It was only when I got up very close to the individual stones, particularly the really wafer thin one, that this place excited me. The angle of the top of each stone was thrilling and had a really angry graphic quality.
I was surprised by the little henge it was in, which seemed too small for the height and sharpness of the stones. My God! When all the stones were up it must've been quite an intimidating sight!
These stones live up to the hype. The flat flagstone means that as you walk around the site, each stone presents a continouously changing aspect. The combination of the three tallest makes the number of angles even greater.
It seemes that the stones have a distinct relationship with the hills of Hoy, which are rather prominent throughout the whole area.
We visited Orkney in July 1997, and made straight for Stennes and Brodgar when we arrived. I was immensely moved by Stennes, which must have once been the most significant megalithic site on Orkney, and still is the most beautiful. The vibes the place gave off were only comparable to Calanais on Lewis.
I proposed to Louise at Stennes, because it seemed like the right place to do it. Five years on I want to go back there and see the stones again. Perhaps we'll make it soon, with our son William and our, as yet, un-born child [Alfie].
I can't believe how few people have posted information to this part of the Web site. If you're considering a trip to Orkney, I can say with all honesty that, for me at least, Stennes justified the trip in itself.
Stones of Stenness, Orkney Mainland
Today we visited loads of sites including Maes Howe, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae etc, but of all the places we ventured today the Stones of Stenness were the most impressive- they were just daunting! They were absolutely enormous and so beautifully shaped with their amazing sloping tops. Apart from the three huge monoliths there is also a fabulous setting of two smaller stones set next to each other only about 20 or 30 cm apart that just demand getting down to look through em. Directly in front of these two is a horizontal slab that just feels like some sort of 'altar' stone. Two other stones next to these complete the setting that just blew me away. It was quite quiet when we visited so I went back to the car and got me dowsing rods out and did a spot- unsurprisingly there was a lot of powerful energies around this amazing place.
The monuments at Stenness held an important part in Orcadian wedding customs over a long period as relayed by the Rev George Low in 1774.
“There was a custom among the lower class of people in this country which has entirely subsided within these twenty or thirty years. Upon the first day of every new year the common people, from all parts of the country, met at the Kirk of Stennis, each person having provision for four or five days; they continued there for that time dancing and feasting in the kirk. This meeting gave the young people an opportunity of seeing each other, which seldom failed in making four or five marriages every year; and to secure each other’s love they had resource to the following solemn engagements:- The parties agreed stole from the rest of their companions and went to the Temple of the Moon, where the woman, in the presence of the man, fell on her knees and prayed to the god Woden (for such was the name of the god they addressed on this occasion) that he would enable her to perform all the promises and obligations she had and was to make to the young man present, after which they both went to the Temple of the Sun, where the man preyed in a like manner before the woman, then they repaired back to the [Odin] stone, and the man being on one side, and the woman on the other, they took hold of each other’s right hand through the hole, and there swore to be constant and faithful to each other. This ceremony was held so very sacred in those times that the person who dared to break the engagement made here was counted infamous and excluded from all society.”
From ‘A Tour Through the Islands of Orkney & Shetland, containing Hints relative to their Ancient, Modern and Natural History’ by Rev. G. Low 1774
William Wilson was told in the 1840s that the stones had been moved here by the mytes [sic]. He believed these to be spirits, and I think mytes is a reference to the bible's "Mighty that were of old" in the plural.
"The belief is found throughout the Celtic territories that certain Standing Stones, set in motion by the spirits which animate them, sometimes go to drink in river or lake. In Orkney, one such Stone was said to walk from the Circle to the Loch of Stennis regularly on Hogmanay, dip it's head into the Loch, and return to its old position. The story goes that a sailor once seated himself on the Stone some time before midnight in order to test the truth of the legend, and the next morning his dead body was found half-way between the Circle and the Loch"
From "The Silver Bough Volume 1: Scottish Folklore and Folk-Belief" by F.Marian McNeill, 1957 page 87.
"The stone circles of the Orkneys had similar traditions:in 1703, Martin Martin wrote that the stone circles at Stenness and Brodgar were 'believed to have been Places design'd to offer Sacrifice in time of Pagan Idolatry; and for this reason the People called them the Ancient temples of the Gods.' An engraving made in 1823 of the Ring of Stenness, known then as the Temple of the Moon, shows a woman hallowing her promise of betrothal at the stones."
From "Celtic Sacred Landscapes" by Nigel Pennick 1996, page 53.
There were once more stones than those in the circle
1760 "There are two standing to the South, one is wanting, and there are two stones standing, a third lying down, then three are wanting, there being a space of 27 yards so that there were eight in all : Eighteen yards South East from the circle is a single stone, and 124 yards to the East of that is another [Odin Stone] with a hole in one side towards the bottom, from which going to the circle is another [stone] 73 yards from the fossee [sic], the outer part of which fossee is 16 yards from the circle" and as this was summertime I guess stumps lay hidden in the grass.
Low ~1774 ""[Stones of Stenness] The drawing shows the stones in their present state, which is four entire and one broken [??recumbent]. It is 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... near the circle are several stones set on end without any regular order, or several of them so much broken, hinder us as to the design of them.""
It seems that sometime between 1760 and 1842 several were nudged and then between 1842 and Thomas visit several were destroyed as described. His disbelief arises because he only knew of the circle itself. One of the external stones was a companion to the Watchstone on the other side of the road and further from it, a fat ?recumbent still there in 1842.
1842 "Stones of Stennis... in one case in a vast circle surrounded by a mount, in the other in insulated groups of two or three together, either forming parts of an approach to the circle, or themselves the sole remnants of other corresponding circles...
none of them is very thick in proportion to its height and breadth... The summits are generally diagonal... and they seem also in many cases to be imbedded in the earth by a corresponding sloping corner. Their original position was no doubt perpendicular although others are leaning to their fall, and not a few are lying flat upon the ground...
Although the gigantic remnants near the Kirkwall road are too few in number to indicate the circular form, yet that... is sufficiently manifested by the distinct traces of a large green mound in which they are enclosed... almost continuous semicircle... the other segment having been ploughrd up... One of the largest of these stones now lies flat... having been loosened it is said... by the plough, and soon after blown over by a gale"
In 1976 the Orkney Field Club established by observation that the 1772 drawing on p.223 of the Royal Society's "Notes & Records..." Vol.28 No.2 is a true view from the SE side of the Stones of Stenness to the Watchstone and beyond
FROM JOHN O' GROAT'S TO LAND'S END OR 1372 MILES ON FOOT by Robert Naylor and John Naylor 1916.
"One of the poets has described them:
The heavy rocks of giant size
That o'er the land in circles rise.
Of which tradition may not tell,
Fit circles for the Wizard spell;
Seen far amidst the scowling storm
Seem each a tall and phantom form,
As hurrying vapours o'er them flee
Frowning in grim security,
While like a dread voice from the past
Around them moans the autumnal blast!"