There is something special about stone circles and no visit to the Outer Hebrides is complete without visiting Calanais.
Standing on a bare ridge above Loch Roag, Calanais Stone Circle is a prominent landmark in all directions, with the stones standing “silhouetted”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callanish_Stones#/media/File:Callanish-circle.jpg against the sky line. On a sunny day against a blue sky, they look benign. In the midst of a thunderstorm with lightening flashing, they seem to absorb all the fury and energy of the storm becoming threatening and sinister. On a clear moonlit night, they are quite magical and you can almost feel the spirits of the ancestors moving around the stones.
There are myths surrounding the stones. The C17 islanders knew the stones as fir bhreige, or false men. One story says the stones are petrified giants who refused to convert to Christianity. Another that the stones were men enchanted by a sorcerer. Folk tradition also refers to the Shining One who walks the length of the avenue on Midsummer morning, blessing all who witness this.
It is a stunning site. It has been described as the ‘most exceptional prehistoric monument in the west of Scotland’. As well as the main circle, there are other smaller and less well known circles in the surrounding area.
Seen from “above,”:https://www2.stetson.edu/neolithic-studies/stone-circles/callanish-from-the-air-isle-of-lewis-scotland/ it is much more than a simple stone circle. There is a central circle of thirteen stones round a tall central monolith. Four avenues of stones radiate out from here.
The site predates Stonehenge and the central circle and north avenue are thought to have been erected about 5000 years ago. The other avenues were erected about a thousand years later. It is thought to have been an astronomical clock with the alignments of the different stones marking significant points in the lunar cycle.
The climate changed many years later, becoming a lot wetter which encouraged peat development. The site was no longer used and many of the stones were buried deep in the peat. The peat was cleared away in 1857 by Sir James Matheson who owned the land, revealing them in their full splendour again.
The stones are massive slabs of Lewisian Gneiss, which is one of the oldest rocks in the British Isles. The tallest stones are up to 10’ tall and it must have taken a massive effort to bring and erect them here. Each stone is slightly different with quartz, feldspar and specks of mica reflecting the light.
The stones are freely accessible at all times and the site never gets that busy unless a rare tourist bus arrives. Chances are you will have the site to yourselves, especially if you visit early or late in the day.
The “Visitor Centre”:https://callanishvisitorcentre.co.uk/ has a shop, cafe and interactive exhibition about the stones.
NOTE: The Gaelic name is Calanais, although the stones are also referred to by the English name of Callanish.