The Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar (HY294133) One of the finest stone circles anywhere, this great henge monument is superbly situated on the Ness of Brodgar, in a confluence of water and sky, surrounded by the agricultural heart of Orkney. The feeling of spaciousness is enhanced by the size of the circle which is 103.7m or 125 megalithic yards in diameter. Of the original 60 stones, 27 remain standing, varying between 2m and 4.5m in height. The site is laid out very accurately in a perfect circle, with the stones approximately 6 degrees apart. One on the North side is inscribed by some cryptographic Norse tree runes, thought to stand for "Biorn".

Ring of Brodgar sunset from the Comet Stone


The surrounding rock-cut ditch is 10m across and more than 3m deep, though now half silted up. Radiocarbon dating from excavation of this ditch places the building of the ditch in the third millennium BC. Despite the size of the ditch there is no trace of a surrounding earthwork, and an estimated 4,700 cubic metres of rock must have been shifted to complete the excavation. All this implies an organised society with a united belief in some form of cosmology or religion.

Nearby is an isolated menhir, the Comet Stone, set on a platform beside the stumps of two other stones. Several other stones stand between this and the Bridge of Brodgar. There are also several large mounds and smaller tumuli in the area, which are probably Bronze Age, as well as another circular mound to the north-west called the Ring of Bookan (HY284145). It seems that the Brodgar area remained important during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC at least, and today it still has a magnetic attraction.

Ring of Brodgar panoramic


There are a variety of astronomical alignments which may have been intended by the builders of the Standing Stones. While many stones are missing, simple observation suggests many possibilities. These relate to the solstices and the equinoxes as well as times such as Beltane (Old May Day). At winter and summer solstices the sunrises and sunsets align with the stones and notches in the hills. Other outlying standing stones may be markers for specific times of year also. At spring and autumn equinoxes, viewed from the Comet Stone, the sun sets just glancing off the westernmost stone.


Ring of Brodgar in the snow


There is nothing the author likes better than a walk around the Ring of Brodgar. The variety of lighting conditions at different seasons and times of day for which Orkney is justly famous, is nowhere more evident than at this ancient site. The builders certainly knew what they were doing when they chose the position at the centre of Orkney's West Mainland! There are few more evocative places to be at dawn or sunset at any time of year than the Ring of Brodgar, a place to enjoy and perhaps where one can temporarily escape from time itself.

To return to the live feeds page click below