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Callanish - Isle of Lewis, Scotland
Stone Circle, Stone Rows and Chambered Tomb
National Grid Reference: NB 213 330

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How To Get There

From Stornoway head southwest along the A859 for about 5 or 6 miles. You should find a brown sign pointing off to the right for Callanish and Dun Carloway. Follow this road through the village of Achmore and continue for about another 6 miles. The circle is well signed. There is a new visitor centre but this can be avoided if desired and you may still see the site without paying an entrance fee.

Callanish, Isle of Lewis

I think that our visit to Callanish might well be the most eagerly anticipated visit of any detailed on these pages so far. A trip to the Western Isles always seemed so far out of our reach in the past. However in 1998 we visited Orkney and this whetted our appetite for the islands around Scotland. Plans were made for a Grand Megalithic Tour of Britain that would culminate in a visit to Callanish. The Grand Tour hasn't happened yet, but in August 1999 we finally made it to Callanish.

There's something about the stones here that captures the imagination. You can see them from afar: tall, thin slabs of light grey stretch up to the overcast sky. They seem like tortured, ghostly figures stranded on a bleak hill top. Closer inspection reveals incredible patterns in the strata of the stone; the place is a work of art quite apart from any other significance.

The structure is quite complex. A circle of tall stones with the tallest of them all, a mighty obelisk standing nearly sixteen feet tall, forms the focus of the site. Three stone rows lead off from the circle to the south, the west-southwest and the east-northeast with an avenue heading off to the north-northeast forming a plan shaped almost like a Celtic cross. At the eastern foot of the obelisk, which stands just off centre, is a small chambered tomb, now open to the elements which was added at a later date. The circle is around forty feet in diameter so with stones this tall, and a chambered tomb crammed in to the area within the circle it can feel quite claustrophobic.

The author standing by the "central" obelisk.

Until the middle of the 19th century the site was blanketed by a layer of peat up to five feet deep, totally covering the chambered tomb and some of the smaller stones. With the vast amount of peat moors on Lewis there could be any number of sites that remain hidden, and protected for future generations.

Backlit photo of Callanish.

Much work has been done here in recent years by Gerald and Margaret Ponting (now Margaret Curtis) including the discovery of a buried stone at the extremity of the eastern stone row. This stone now stands again in its original stone hole.

I recommend a visit to Margaret Curtis' exhibition about a mile up the road from the site. There you can see some interesting finds and a detailed investigation into the archaeo-astronomy of the site which is quite fascinating (but too lengthy to discuss in detail here).

I can also heartily recommend the following booklets to compliment any visit to the site: "The Stones Around Callanish" which covers all of the other Callanish sites and "New Light on the Stones of Callanish" which goes into more detail regarding the main site than I possibly can here!

Over the shoulder of the obelisk showing the chambered tomb.

The following links will take you to pages devoted to the other three sites around Callanish that I have visited so far. If (when) we return to Lewis I hope to track down some more of the related sites. A GPS device acquired after this visit will surely come in useful here!

Cnoc Ceann a'Gharraidh (Callanish II)
Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag (Callanish III)
Ceann Hulavig (Callanish IV)

Nearby Sites

Callanish II
Callanish III
Callanish IV
Achmore
Dun Carloway

Related Sites

Druim Dubh

Notes

 

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