Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Three of my favorite ancient monuments of Scotland

I think my top three most amazing historic sites in Scotland would have to be the Callanish Standing Stones, Skara Brae and the Sun Honey Stone Circle.
I could not wait to get to the Isle of Lewis and see the stones that I had heard and read about forever. I have been to many stone sites all over the British Isles but C
allanish still remains one of my very favorite. I am not sure why I had such an affinity with Callanish before I had even laid eyes on it but I wanted it to be as awesome as I imagined.Callanish is a cross-shaped setting of standing stones erected around 2000 BC and one of the most spectacular megalithic monuments in Scotland.
Within a few miles of Callanish I started to see the stones on the hilltop and a thrill started at the base of my spine and zinged its way up to the top of my head. As I got closer and closer the tingling intensified and I knew that I would be totally awed! I was not disappointed.The stones, of Lewisian gneiss, were buried in about six feet of peat before they were cleared in the year 1857. Prior to this time, nobody even knew they existed!
Upon reaching the monument you see that it is a ring of large stones about 40 feet in diameter that enclose a huge monolith at the centre. Running north from the stone circle are two parallel lines of stones forming an avenue about 80 yards long. There are now 19 stones in the avenue and entering the site from the north you will feel impelled to walk up this avenue to the circle. Also in the middle of the ring is the remains of a chambered cairn which looks to have been added later. Local tradition says that giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned into stone as a punishment but as with most monuments of this age very little is really know.
Another site that I could not wait to visit was Skara Brae on the main Island in the Orkney Islands. I wanted to see the site as I knew that it is Europe's most complete Neolithic village and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was still not prepared for what I was about to see! As with Callanish, before the mid 1800's nobody even knew it existed. In the winter of 1850 a great storm hit Orkney and the combination of the wind and the high tides uncovered a stone village that had been hidden for thousands of years.
Skara Brae is believed to be about 5,200 years old. Older than the great pyramids of Egypt! Because of the protection offered by the sand that covered the settlement for 4,000 years, the buildings and their contents are incredibly well-preserved. Not only are the walls of the structures still standing, and alleyways roofed with their original stone slabs, but the interior fittings of each house give an unparalleled glimpse of life as it was in Neolithic Orkney. Each house shares the same basic design - a large square room with a central fireplace, a bed on either side and a shelved dresser on the wall opposite the doorway. It is amazing to see how advanced this civilization was and is still perfectly preserved for us to enjoy!
My third site today is the Sun Honey Stone Circle not far from Aberdeen. What? You have never heard of Sun Honey? Well then, you are in the majority. The area around Aberdeen is resplendent with recumbent stone circles and I was out monument hunting one day and was looking for a particular circle. It was remaining quite elusive and so I stopped to ask for directions. I know, I know...very unmanly of me, but what can I say. Anyway, I was directed to a stone circle that I did not know even existed. It was not the one I was looking for but far beyond anything I had imagined. This 4,000 year old stone circle sits out in the middle of a farm with limited access.
When we arrived, we found a small copse of trees that looked as if they had never been entered and we stepped back in time. We were immediately awed as it did not look as if anybody had been to the site in years and this recumbent stone circle was surrounded by a ring of aging trees.There are nine stones in the circle, plus the recumbent and then two stones that flank its side. The recumbent has fallen over and part of it has broken off. The recumbent stone is marked with approximately 30 cup marks. There are suggestions that these cups held blood from sacrifices made on the recumbent stone or are plans of circular huts, or even mason's marks but this is all purely speculation. What I love best about this stone circle is that it has not been manicured in any way and remains very untouched and magical.
I have quite an imagination and what I like so much about sites like this is so little is known and so my imagination can run wild. These are a very few of my favorite places in Scotland as they do stir my imagination and it thrills me to be able to walk where others walked thousands of years ago.

Shannon McDonald Tate

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