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The Watchstone, Stenness

"Close to either side of the southern end of the bridge which leads across to the northern promontory stands a great sentinel stone..."
James Wilson. A voyage round the coasts of Scotland
and the isles

The Watchstone - Photograph by Sigurd TowrieOne of Orkney's most imposing monoliths, the Watchstone stands a short distance to the north-west of the Standing Stones of Stenness.

Towering over the Brig o' Brodgar, the solitary stone giant stands at the point the Stenness and Harray lochs meet.

Just over 5.6 metres high (around 19 feet), we know the Watchstone was once one of a pair of standing stones, outliers to the Stone of Stenness circle, that perhaps marked the approach to the to the Ness of Brodgar.

A second stone discovered

Picture Sigurd TowrieIn 1930, the stump of the Watchstone's companion was unearthed in the bank by the side of the road.

The stump, which was removed at the time, was close to the edge of the Stenness loch, around 13 metres (42 feet) to the south-west of the Watchstone.

The stump measured 1.45 metres (4 ft 9 in) wide, 12.7cm (5in) thick, and at least 90cm (3ft) high.

It was aligned exactly north-east and south-west, at an obtuse angle to the Watchstone.

Its discovery led to the theory that the two stones were the remnants of the south-eastern section of a large stone circle, the rest of which has disappeared when the level of the Stenness Loch increased.

It has long been suggested that the two massive megaliths were once part of a stone-flanked ceremonial route between the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness complexes. Click here to view a map of the area.

Other megaliths said to have been part of this procession way included the Odin Stone, the Comet Stone, and two unnamed standing stones outside the house of Lochview.

However, a series of geophysics surveys carried out across the Ness of Brodgar have found no evidence of any stone avenue.

Another suggestion is that the twin stones may have represented a series of symbolic "doorways" between the two stone circles.

A midwinter connection?

The Brig o' Brodgar: Photo By Sigurd TowrieLocal man, Charles Tait, has highlighted an interesting connection to the Watchstone and the Midwinter solstice.

From the Watchstone, viewing the winter solstice sunset, the sun disappears behind Ward Hill on Hoy for a few minutes, before being "reborn" briefly at the bottom of the hill's northern slope.

A few days after the solstice, the sun sets behind Ward Hill, but this time reappears in a horizon "notch" formed by the island's hills.

This phenomenon prompted the idea that the stone was perhaps a marker for watching the sun's progress as it sets further and further south.

The various marker points afforded by the Hoy hills would allow the watcher to gauge the approach of the solstice.

Click here for Charles Tait's pictures of the phenomenon.