Saturday, 6 September 2008


One of the highlights of a visit to Lewis is the standing stones of Callanish. They have been called the second best stone circle in Britain after Stonehenge but, having visited both, I reckon that Callanish provides the more satisfying experience. Stonehenge is crowded and fenced off, but at Callanish, outside the times of the opening of the visitor centre - early in the morning, late in the evening, or in winter, the visitor has the stones to themselves, and can wander amongst the gneiss pillars, weathered like boards of timber.

Built around 3,000BC, it is not quite clear what these stones were for, but people have speculated a sacred function, related to the position of the moon as seen from a certain point at a certain time of year. It is almost certainly the site described in Pytheas' 325BC lost text On the Ocean, referenced by later writers, where 'the god visited the island every 19 years and danced continuously through the night from the vernal equinox until the rising of the Pleiades'. (The moon has a 19 year cycle, and every 19 years can be seen each night to skim along the hills on the horizon when viewed from Callanish.)

It is unique in not being a simple stone circle, but rather takes the form in plan of a Celtic cross, with avenues of stones radiating away from a central circle.

At each step around this complex, one is struck by a new view as the stones align themselves afresh. What was it built for?

Each weathered board,
each visage, each stump;
a question mark,
a buried book,
a raised exclamation.

The Stones of Callanish:

1 comment:

Rune said...

I went over to Lewis especially to see Callanish. I wasn't disappointed except, if I a recall correctly, the visitor centre thing.

It's in a fantastic setting with the water all around in the distance. I think that the creators must have been after the same setting as The Ring of Brodgar on Orkney.

The stones have a mesmerising silver blue swirl through them, much like a Van Gogh design.

I hope I go back some day.