Hope Springs Eternal
The stones stood in a ring in the middle of a field. A breeze rustled through the heather and raised the hair on the back of my neck. As I walked towards them, the ancientness of the place pulled me along. I reached out my hands and touched the nearest stone and –
Another beloved novel ruined for me, much like the realization that I was never getting my Hogwarts letter forever changed how I related to Harry Potter. Nevertheless, I bucked up and continued on my way – taking solace in the fact that Orkney isn’t technically in the Highlands, so my Jamie Fraser might still be out there.
Standing Stones of Indeterminate Age
Standing in a field overlooking the Loch of Harray, the Ring of Brodgar sticks out in a landscape of rolling hills. In some ways, though, it has been just another part of the Orkney landscape for millennia. No one’s quite sure when the stones were erected, but archaeologists estimate that it was done between 2500 and 2000 BC, making it quite a bit younger than the settlement at Skara Brae. In fact, it’s been around for so long that the locals weren’t too fussed about it.
Before historical preservation took on the importance that it has today, the locals didn’t spend much thought on the stones. Or on any of the similar sites around, for that matter. There are stories of farmers getting fed up with having a big rock on their land and pulling it down to get it out of their way. One local got so annoyed by a standing stone on his land that he dynamited it.
The Ring of Brodgar was a bit luckier than its fellow neolithic sites. Only 36 of the original 60 standing stones comprising the Ring of Brodgar survive today. However, their demise was probably more due to the elements than to cantankerous, dynamite-happy farmers.
Who Knows Why?
No one’s quite sure why it was built, either. The best guess, though, comes from the surrounding area. The ring of stones sits in the middle of several other important Neolithic sites, such as burial mounds like Maeshowe (pronounces mays-how). Many Bronze-Age tools and relics have been found in the area. This, of course, makes Orkney very popular with archaeologist, both professionals and amateurs alike. Despite the number of people who are interested in these neolithic constructions, why most of them were built is still anyone’s guess.
Historians and archaeologists suggest that the Ring of Brodgar had some connection to neolithic ceremonies. The stones might have been thought to be a place where the living and the dead could commune together.
So, maybe Diana Gabaldon wasn’t so far off after all.
Into the Modern Era
Since 1884, archaeologists have been prohibited from excavating around the Ring of Brodgar itself. There is therefore little evidence for how its builders used it or why. However, much excavation has been allowed at nearby sites. This work supports theories that the Ring of Brodgar was one of the most important sites for Orkney’s neolithic inhabitants.
In 1999, the Ring of Brodgar, along with nearby Skara Brae and the Standing Stones of Stenness, and Maeshowe, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status under the title “The Heart of Neolithic Orkney“.
Visiting the Ring of Brodgar
Getting there: You’re going to have to drive it, folks. There are no public transit routes that stop here. However, there is a parking area and a cycling route, if you’re so inclined. It’s on the B9055, northeast of Stromness. If you’re following a GPS, just search for “Ring of Brodgar.”
Admission: There is no admission fee to the Ring of Brodgar.
Opening hours: The site is open year-round from dawn until dusk.
Good to know:
- The Ring of Brodgar is maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. You can see their page for this site here.
- Pro tip: Check out the list of sites maintained by Historic Environment Scotland before you go. While this site is admission-free, not all sites are. It might be worth your while to purchase a membership, which gets you free admission to all sites and a discount in the souvenir shops!
- The Ring of Brodgar is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Orkney which celebrates neolithic civilization there.