One of the highlights of our recent trip to Scotland was the tour of Isle of Lewis. I'd been looking forward to this for a long time. Last week I covered the ferry trip from Ullapool to Stornoway. Today I want to cover the first stop on our tour, the Callanish Standing Stones. (Calanais in Gaelic.) I've admired photos of Callanish for years and dreamed of visiting. It's such a beautiful and mystical place.
|The road across Lewis|
|Beautiful lochs and mountains of Lewis.|
Callanish is beautiful, atmospheric and mystical just as I'd imagined from all the photos I'd seen of it over the years. Carbon dating has shown that Callanish is older than Stonehenge. They were erected between 2900 and 2600 BC. It is believed that people lived here as far back as 3000 BC. This is around the same time period that Skara Brae was settled on Orkney.
Callanish stands on a prominent ridge and is visible from miles around.
We learned Callanish isn't just one standing stone circle but that there is a whole complex with many standing stones in the surrounding area. It includes eighteen sites. We didn't get to visit any of them but they include Clach Stei Lin in Airidhantuim, Clach an Truiseil in Ballantrushal, Steinacleit in Lower Shader, Kerb Cairn in Breascleit and several others. Some are chambered burial cairns. Most of them have interrelated sight-lines which means they have a close relationship to the main circle at Callanish. This may have once been the most important spot on Lewis for political or religious reasons.
Experts believe that the main circle at Callanish was designed over a long period of time and may have had input from seaborne travelers because of the similarity between Callanish, Stonehenge and Avebury in England and Carnac in Brittany.
|central burial cairn|
|I love the view from here.|
Callanish is a circle with 13 main stones with a central monolith and five radiating rows of stones. The two rows of stones which form an avenue, aligning almost true north, links with Stonehenge, Avebury and Broomend of Crichie in Aberdeenshire. Some say the overall layout of Callanish is a Celtic cross design although it was built in pre-Christian times. The stones are 1 to 5 meters in height and they are made from local Lewis gneiss stone. The tallest marks the entrance to a burial cairn where human remains were found. The site was excavated in 1980 and 81 and they discovered the cairn was a later addition to the site. Experts believe the stones were a prehistoric lunar observatory. Others believe there is a relationship between the stones, the moon and the Clisham range on Harris.
|Click to enlarge. This shows the neolithic sites in Scotland.|
The first documentation of the stones was by a Lewis native, John Morisone. In 1680 he wrote "great stones standing up in ranks were sett up in place for devotione." Local tradition on the island say the giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned to stone as punishment. Another belief says that at sunrise on midsummer morning the "shining one" walked along the stone avenue, "his arrival heralded by the cuckoo's call." This legend could go all the way back to the original significance of the stones.
In 3000 BC the climate of Lewis was warmer than it is today, the sea level was lower and the land was better for farming. This was proven by the farming tools found beneath the peat. It is believed that a cult or religion swept through the British Isles at that time which involved the building of large henge monuments and stone circles.
|Looking up at a tall stone. See the lichens growing on the rock?|
|I'm trying to stay warm and dry.|
One explanation for Callanish is that every 18.6 years, the moon skims especially low over the southern hills like a god visiting earth. Wise people who lived long lives must have noticed this unusual occurrence. A thousand years after it was built, Callanish was abandoned and the area inside the circle leveled. It is not known whether this was for agriculture of for ritual cleansing. The climate started to change around that time, becoming colder and wetter. This climate change caused the peat to grow deeper and deeper until the stones were almost buried. When the peat was cut in 1857, their true height was again revealed. In the 17th century local people called them "false men." In 1885 the main circle was taken into state care.
|a distant view of the standing stones|
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Sinfully handsome, Keegan MacKay is a fearsome guard as well as the chief’s cousin, but Seona’s father would never consider him a worthy husband for her because he is not a titled laird. Seona has secretly watched the sensual, tawny-haired warrior from across the crowded great hall for months, but when he is tasked with escorting her across Scotland, back to her home, their simmering attraction flames into sizzling passion with just one kiss.
Though she fears she is endangering Keegan’s life, Seona cannot resist his seductive charm or his spellbinding kisses. Keegan sets fire to the memories of her sad past and shows her what it means to truly live. But her father has other plans. He’s arranged for her to marry a wealthy Lowland laird. Is Keegan daring enough to steal her away? Or will the vindictive Haldane snatch her first?