NGR: HY 29456 13361. The Ring of Brodgar (or Brogar) is a Late Neolithic stone circle and henge monument situated on a narrow spit of raised land (Ness of Brodgar) between the Lochs of Stenness and Harray, just east of the B9055 road, in Orkney. The monument lies in the Parish of Stenness and is roughly halfway between Hestwall and Stenness. There used to be 60 standing stones forming the huge circle which has a diameter of 340 feet, but today less than half the stones remain standing; some of the fallen stones were recently re-erected. It is almost circular in design and is surrounded by a rock-cut ditch, the circle and outer ditch probably built in sections, rather than all at once. The monument dates from 2500-2000 BC. Whether the monument was built as a site for Druidic worship is not certain, but that would seem to be the case here, and, with that in mind, there are several burial cairns in the vicinity, and, also nearby are the equally impressive ‘Stones of Stenness’ and ‘Ring of Bookan’ which are all part of a ceremonial complex which also in-cluded Maeshow. All-in-all, then, the Ring of Brodgar was, and still is, a very sacred, magical and mystical place. From Hestwall take the B9055 road southeast to Wasbister, then continue southeast along the same road for a few miles in the direction of Stenness to reach the Ness of Brodgar – the stone circle soon coming into view on your right.
Childe & Simpson (1959) tell us: “The Ring of Brogar, on the isthmus between the Lochs of Harry and Stenness is one of the great complex of monuments of which Maes Howe is also a member. The ring stands not quite on the crest of the ridge separating the two lochs. It now consists of 27 upright slabs, set with their broad faces tangential to a circle 340 feet in diameter. Some stones are clearly missing. Many of the survivors are mere stumps and others are badly weathered. The tallest now stands 15 feet above the ground, and none is likely to have been less than 8 feet high. It is thought that the slabs have been brought from an ancient quarry on Vestra Fiold, some 6 miles away. On one upright on the north is cut an undeciphered runic inscription and a cross. The stones stand on a gently sloping space, 10 feet to 12 feet from the inner lip of the enclosing fosse. This seems on an average 30 feet wide, but has never been excavated. It is spanned by a causeway on the north-west and south-east, but no trace of bank is visible outside it.
“The adjacent fields have yielded quite a harvest of flint arrowheads and broken stone mace-heads of Bronze Age type. To the north, just across the boundary of Sandwick Parish, is a ruined chamber tomb and close by, the Ring of Bookan, an irregular area surrounded by a fosse. Nearer to Brogar are several large earthen barrows, most probably heaped in the Bronze Age. There is a similar concentration of Bronze Age barrows round Stonehenge. South of Brogar a series of five Standing Stones may be the remnants of an alignment or even an avenue leading across the narrow isthmus called the Bridge of Brodgar to another sacred enclosure.”
Charles Tait (1999) says: “The Ring of Brodgar (HY294133). One of the finest stone circles any-where, 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”. The surrounding rock-cut ditch is 10m across and more than 3m deep, though now half silted up. Radiocarbon dating from the 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 theBrodgar area remained important during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. at least, and today it still has a magnetic attraction.”
Tait adds more, saying: “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 the year also. At spring and autumn equinoxes, viewed from the Comet Stone, the sun sets just glancing of the westernmost stone.”
Reader’s Digest (1977) adds: “Stenness, Mainland Orkney. Couples in the parish (Stenness) once made betrothal vows among the two famous stone circles in the district. They then swore constancy at the Odin Stone (a monolith destroyed in the 19th century) by joining hands through the hole in the stone’s centre.” The AA (1968) also tells us: “Stenness Mainland, Orkney. The Ring of Bookan is really a cairn of the Maes Howe type, but has been largely destroyed. The great surrounding ditch, however, is still in existence. Half a mile to the north-east is the Ring of Brodgar, a henge monument. The external bank has now disappeared, but the circling ditch still exists and encloses an area of 370 ft across, with two entrances.”
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Childe, Gordon & Simpson, Douglas, Ancient Monuments — Scotland — Illustrated Guide Volume VI, H.M.S.O., Edinburgh, 1959.
Reader’s Digest, Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.
Tait, Charles, The Orkney Guide Book (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait photographic, Kelton, St. Ola, Orkney, 1999.
The AA, Treasures of Britain And Ireland, Drive Publications Limited, London, 1968.
Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2021.