The amazing standing stones made of local gneiss stand on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, isolated in their strange grandeur in a cruciform pattern, predating Stonehenge. They were erected in the late Neolithic era above the waters of Loch Roag. Again, they seem to be part of a larger pattern of activity surrounded by other interesting sites, many of which are visible from Callanish. Julian Cope writes in his wonderful ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ (Thorsons 1998), ‘Callanish stones are the stuff of legend. They reek of cosmic ideas.’
It was thought to be constructed around 2,900-2,600BC but the site was despoiled by later Bronze Age farmers around 1,500-1,000BC and covered over with turf, being abandoned around 800BC. Here we see the historical pattern of something as important as Callanish nearly disappearing and then coming back out into the light, in this case after 1857 when the one and a half metres of peat was removed. In 1860 John Morrisone of Lewis wrote that the stones were man, ‘converted into stone by ane enchanter’ and set up in a ring for ‘devotione.’ For Callanish, only a visit will do – it is an outpost, and as Cope points out ‘the battle to get here is everything.’
The site is managed by Historic Scotland and there is a small visitor centre. Local legend says that early on a midsummer morning an entity known as ‘The Shining One’ walks the length of the avenue of the stones, his coming heralded by the call of the cuckoo. Other more recent experiments insist that by meditative tuning in to the stones the essence or being within the stones can be called forth and has been caught in as yet unpublished photographs.
Location: off the A859 on the Isle of Lewis
Coordinates 58.1979°N 6.7443°W
Photo credit: Marta Gutowska