"As we passed the
Bridge of Brodgar, we could dimly descry the Standing Stones of Stenness
on the eminence but today looming in the darkness like a regiment
of grim spectres. As we approached the Stone of Odin, it appeared
to be larger and more unshapely than usual and all the ghastly traditions
surrounding it flashed through my mind."
Around the Orkney Peat Fires
Until the winter of 1814, a holed monolith stood in a field by the Standing Stones of Stenness.
This stone occupied a particularly special
place in the customs, traditions and lore of the Orcadian people.
Thought to have been erected around 3000BC, the Odin Stone, or Stone o' Odin, stood approximately 2.5 metres
(8 feet) high with a breadth of about one metre (3.5 feet).
The location of the Odin Stone was unclear
until May 1988, when archaeologists, surveying over 8,000 metres of land surrounding the Stenness
stones, uncovered socket holes for several stones
and finally the socket of the Odin Stone itself.
The holed monolith was shown to have stood approximately 140 metres
(150 yards) to the north of the Standing Stones of Stenness - between the stone ring and the current house, aptly named Odin. A socket hole for a second megalith would indicate that the Odin Stone was once one of a pair.
But although the monolith had stood resolutely for millennia, the Odin Stone's destruction
took less than a day.
In 1814, the man who leased the land on which the
stones stood - an incomer by the name of Captain W.
Mackay - waged
an attack on the Stenness megaliths.
At the time, the Odin Stone, and the circles of Stenness and Brodgar, still played a major part in common Orcadian
tradition. Because of this, large number of people visited the ancient sites regularly. According to Mackay, this was ruining his land., so he set out to tear down the stones.
He began with the Odin Stone, which he destroyed in December, 1814,
allegedly using the stone fragments to construct a byre.
This misguided "ferrylouper" - the dialect
word used to describe non-Orcadians living in the isles - was already
not well-liked, and his destruction of the monolith
did nothing to improve this.
The native Orcadians were so infuriated by Mackay's actions that various attempts were made to burn down his house and
Then, on Christmas Day, 1814, a local historian in
Kirkwall heard of Mackay's plans and
involved the law - who executed a "Sist and Suspension" against him.
By this time, however, Mackay had already toppled one of the Standing Stones of Stenness, and obliterated a second.
The monolith's fate
Though Orkney tradition maintained that the fragments of the
Odin Stone were used for building material, in the 1950s, the local antiquarian, Ernest
Marwick, could find no evidence to prove that this was actually the
He did, however, discover that the main portion
of the stone - the holed segment - survived into the 1940s, before
it too was completely destroyed.
This section of the stone, Marwick learned, had been used as
an anchor for a horse-powered mill-shaft that moved around the
parish of Stenness as the mill changed hands.
When it was finally decided to replace the horse-drawn
mill with an engine-driven threshing machine, the old mill was uprooted
and lay around, with the Odin Stone fragment, gathering moss.
the day came that the owner's son decided to tidy up and remove the old machinery. Unable to move the stone segment, and ignorant
of its history, he smashed it to dust.
His unwitting destruction of the Odin Stone fragment
closed a chapter of Orkney history. But it also roused the fiery wrath of
his father, who exclaimed:
"You had no damned business to break
that stone: that was the Stone o' Odin that came from Barnhouse!"