“ f one iconic site has come to represent Orkney's ancient heritage, it must surely be the Ring o' Brodgar. Part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, the Ring o' Brodgar is found in the West Mainland parish of Stenness. It stands on an eastward-sloping plateau on the Ness o' Brodgar - a thin strip of land separating the Harray and Stenness lochs. „
The Ring of Brodgar is one of Orkney's more famous and visible Neolithic sites, being as it is a ring of 27 huge standing stones. It is located near the village of Stenness, on the Ness o'Brodgar which separates the Harray and Stenness lochs. The ring is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
It is thought that originally the ring contained 60 stones, but this has never been confirmed as the site has never been fully excavated. This also means the age of the ring is not certain either, but it is assumed to date from between 2500 BC and 2000BC.
Entry to the monument is free. There is a large car park nearby, but it is still a bit of a walk to the ring. There are disabled spots closer, but access for the disabled would not be easy. The path up to the ring is good quality, but it is on a slope. The path which goes round the ring is reasonable but bumpy and a bit narrow. And full of standing stones which get in the way slightly.
You can walk right the way round the Ring of Brodgar. The path is grassy, and a noticeable contrast to the heather in the centre of the ring and outside.
The Ring of Brodgar is, quite frankly, incredible. You can see if from far away, and it's not that imposing due to its position on a slope, but up close it's beautiful. Having walked up the path to the ring itself, I stood looking at the circle of stones and the huge ditch which surrounds them, and I felt a bit humbled. People created this all those years ago, with no machinery, and for reasons we can only guess at. It's quite an incredible achievement.
The walk round the ring is pleasant, at least if the weather is nice. We were lucky - sunny and breezy, but not the gales that Orkney is known for. There is a longer one hour walk around the Brodgar RSPB reserve, but we just went round the stones themselves, which was far enough and pleasant given the weather.
Most of the stones are standing, but some are on the ground or broken. One which is on the ground features a plaque stating it was felled by lightening in a summer storm in the 1980s. To think it had survived that long, and then fell in my lifetime.
The Ring of Brodgar is a stunning monument, and iconic of Orkney. It is an absolute "must-see" if you visit the islands.
The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic henge and stone circle thought to have been erected between 2500BC and 200BC on the mainland island of Orkney and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apparently henges (that is the circular flat area and surrounding bank/ditch) do not usually have stone circles in them and therefore this site along with Stonehenge are anomalies. Unfortunately because of the prominence of Stonehenge and the fact that a flat circular bit of land from Neolithic times doesn't really look like much, the unusualness of the site is rather overlooked as people flock to see yet another stone circle.
Of the probable original 60 stones, 27 remain in a huge circle in an otherwise unremarkable field. The circle is 104 metres in diametre which is a massive distance when you are standing in the centre of it. Whilst I have heard people denigrate a site which consists of a few stones stuck into a field, in their words, I would urge anyone not to go with this attitude.
Walking up from the road I was briefly disappointed as at first the standing stones don't look that big. In fact from far away it can look a little like a joke with someone hauling a few stones and dumping them in a rough circle. As you get closer, however, it becomes more and more obvious that these stones individually are huge and also that this is a near perfect circle. Not impressed by that? Think how hard it is to draw a near perfect circle with a pencil on a piece of paper, then think of trying to do that with a pile of stones that weigh several tonnes each. The stones stand between 2.1 and 4.7 metres high above the ground and when standing beside one they really tower over you. The rocks are slabs of sandstone and covered as they are with patches of moss and lichen they have a strange habit of blending in and then jumping out of the landscape-at one moment they can seem so natural until the fact that a circle of huge stones is not something that nature would just thrown up!
Whilst I haven't gone to Stonehenge and so can't make a comparison, I can say that there is something about the Orkney Isles themselves which make all the Neolithic sites but particularly this circle, extremely awe inspiring. The landscape has a wild look to it, and so instead of gentle countryside you are surrounded by small but rough hills, lochs and a windswept landscape which make life here more of a struggle than down south even in modern times never mind 4000 years ago. That doesn't understate the presence of other sites but the magical quality here was strong for me. The light of being far north has that slightly peculiar and clear quality to it and it is easy to imagine a group of people standing here for some important rite or ceremony. I would recommend going later in the afternoon or evening (depending on the time of year, but when the shadows start getting long) as there was something about the dragged out shadows which emphasized just how huge these stones were as well as giving a strange extra dark ring in the circle which demonstrate its shape.
A few points to look out for are one of the stones which was struck by lightning in 1980 and split leaving half the block on the ground. There is a small plaque noting the stone and how the ring is subject to the ravages of nature. It is quite impressive it is as intact as it is after 4000 or more years. Also many of the stones have graffiti on them, which I know some people dislike but these notes on the stone date back (supposedly) to the 12th century as well as leading up to the modern day. The oldest I found were from the 18th century but it is a strange record of visitors to the site through time and proof that graffiti is far from being a fault of modern times. Actually here I wouldn't call it a fault anyway as there are only small carvings on the rock and they are interesting-no big spray painted signs!
The one downside of the site is that in order to preserve them a few of the stones have had modern concrete on them to fill in cracks. There is always a difficult balance to be struck between preserving the site for the future and leaving the site as natural and original as possible but I do tend to come down on the side of the latter. For me, we just have to accept that the site won't stay the same forever and the best we can do is track and record any changes but not stop them although I accept some people disagree strongly on this point!
As to the purpose of the Ring of Brodgar or how it was constructed, as with many ancient sites, in truth no-one really knows. There are a number of educated guesses which usually centre on it being some sort of ceremonial site, possibly a site of religious ritual or as an early observatory. Like Stonehenge it is thought that an inner circle may once have existed and that this may have been sectioned off for use only by some type of priests or higher cast who would undertake rituals whilst the masses remained in the outer circle. Note all the 'mays': in reality nobody can say for sure but it is very likely that this area was of some significance given that the circle is situated on a narrow isthmus with other standing stones and stone circles (Brodgar is the most impressive!) and Maeshowe and other cairns are nearby. It is the highest concentration of sites from Neolithic times anywhere in Britain.
As tips, Brodgar itself has little information and no shelter so try to go on a dry day or you will get soaked and get a booklet at another site if you want background information on the place. A good idea is to go see Maeshowe first as there is a compulsory guided tour which covers some of the surrounding sites such as Brodgar. It gives a little background rather than simple staring at huge stones, as impressive as they are!
There is a small car park just beside the circle and entry is free. There is simple a kissing gate at the foot of the field and a slightly sloped grass path up to the stones.