"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 (1842)
One of Orkney's most imposing monoliths,
the Watchstone stands a short distance to the north-west of the Standing Stones o' 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 o' Stenness circle, that perhaps marked the approach to
the to the Ness o' Brodgar.
A second stone discovered
In 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
o' Brodgar and the the
Standing Stones o' 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 o' 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?
Local 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
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.
here for Charles Tait's pictures of the phenomenon.