"The romance of Orkney's
past has its memorials in the many great standing stones that
thumb the heavens from vantage points all over the islands."
skywards from Orkney's gentle landscape are a number of ancient
standing stones, each a stark reminder of our prehistoric heritage.
First cut from Orkney flagstone and
erected before the Egyptians had begun constructing their pyramids,
Orkney's stone sentinels have withstood rain, wind and sun for thousands of years.
The reason the ancient Orcadians
went to the considerable effort of raising these stone monuments
is still unclear. To our modern minds, the society of Neolithic
man is difficult to comprehend - a society where everyday life,
religion and ritual were inextricably linked.
Theories abound as to their purpose
- astronomical observatories, territorial markers or calendars -
each specialist having his own personal thoughts on the subject.
Whatever the reason for their construction, they
remain every bit as awe inspiring and powerful today as they must
have appeared when an active part of the islands' culture.
Although a number of standing stones have inevitably
vanished from the landscape over the years - pulled down to provide
building materials, or simply to clear a field - quite a number were
untouched by man and are still standing.
most famous of these stones are within the Ring
o' Brodgar and the Standing
Stones o' Stenness but these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Most visitors venture no further than the Stenness complexes - the
heart of prehistoric Orkney - which is a pity, because there are
a number on the outer islands that deserve a visit.
Away from the
Mainland are stones such as the Fingersteen and the Yetnasteen. These megaliths wait the passing of each day,
alone and silent, ignorant of the daily coachloads of tourists that
flock to view their seemingly grander cousins at Brodgar and Stenness.
Many of the stones, past and present, had their
legends attached to them.
The most common by far is the tradition
that some of the monoliths
come to life on New Years Eve (Hogmanay) and walk to a
nearby body of water where they dip their heads and drink. Others
were thought to be giants, trolls or witches, transformed
to stone and frozen in time by the rays of the Orkney sun.
Of all the legends and traditions surrounding
Orkneys megaliths, those surrounding the now-destroyed Odin
Stone were by far the most potent and deep-seated. This holed
stone held a particularly special part in the hearts of Orcadians
until its destruction in the 19th century.
For more information on Orkneys megalithic
monuments, select from one of the links in the right hand menu.