Wednesday, 6 June 2018
There's not much doubt that almost everyone who visits Lewis will make the journey to the west of the island to see the standing stones at Calanais. We arrived early in the afternoon, hoping to avoid some of the bustle of tourist coaches.
One of the best known of Britain's standing stone formations, the main stones here are just one of over 20 monuments in this part of Lewis erected between 3000 and 4000 years ago. The main site is known as Calanais (Callanish) 1 and consists of some 50 orthostats in a complex arrangement of circle and avenues. The central stone circle and northern avenue are believed to date from 2000BC with the other avenues and a "tomb" within the central circle dating from about 1500BC.
In plan view the stones form a similar pattern to a celtic cross with the radial avenues leading either to or from the central circle of 13 stones.
The labour and planning required to erect the stones must have been enormous for a small community and it's clear that this was a place of some significance.
Erected in the Neolithic period and in use as a ritual site right through the Bronze Age, the stones are believed to have been a ritual site and have connections with lunar observations, including the lunar standstill which occurs every 18.6 years - the moon appears to stand on the surface of a nearby ridge when seen from the centre of the circle at this time.
Despite the wet weather and a visit planned to coincide with lunchtime there were still large numbers of folk visiting this justifiably famous place. Below the low hill on which the stones stand there's a visitor centre, cafe and busy car park, all of which detracts slightly from attempts to just stand quietly and absorb the site.
The central stone is some 4.8 metres tall and weighs around 7 tonnes. It is actually 0.8 metres from the "true" centre of the circle. The stones seem to have fallen out of use about 800BC, and since then had accumulated a covering of some 1.5 metres of peat which was removed during archaeological excavations in 1857, revealing the extent of the site.
The stones themselves are a rough, granular grey rock banded and speckled with black - quite at home in the landscape.
In its setting on a ridge, Calanais is a visible and evocative site - but it's not the only circle hereabouts and we'd visit others later in the day. Overhead the promised improvement in the weather was arriving and we'd not see a drop of rain for the remainder of the week. Next on our itinerary was another place we've wanted to visit for a long time.