Isle of Albion
Photographed: Friday 3rd May 2013
Site rating:

The Ring of Brodgar (pronounced "broaDyeur") is a late Neolithic stone circle of uncertain date, generally thought to have been constructed between 2500BC and 2000BC. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "The Heart of Neolithic Orkney", and is Britain's third largest stone circle, covering an area exceeded only by Avebury and the Great Circle at Stanton Drew.

The Ring of Brodgar consists of 27 stones, the tallest rising to approximately 4.5 metres. It is estimated that there were once 60 stones in the ring, but this figure is speculative. A further outlier (the Comet Stone) lies on a raised platform to the south east of the main circle. This stone may once have formed part of a small group of stones, or possibly a dolmen-like structure, but the evidence for this is inconclusive.

The Ring of Brodgar is (unusually) a true circle. It has a diameter of around 103 metres, and stands on a sloping platform on the Ness o' Brodgar - a thin strip of land that runs between the Loch of Harray and the Loch of Stenness. It is surrounded by a circular ditch, with two entrance points approached by causeways to the southeast and northwest. The ditch is cut from sandstone bedrock, and is approximately 3 metres deep and 9 meters wide.

It is worth noting that the Loch of Stenness (to the south west of the monument) existed in Neolithic times only as a marshy area of land, and the loch as we see it today was created a thousand years later when the sea breached a land bridge, allowing water in penetrate further inland.

The stone circle is flanked by a number of cairns and mounds. The largest of these is Salt Knowe, which is most strikingly visible from the Comet Stone. The South Knowe is closest to the circle, and forms an effective viewing platform from which a raised perspective can be gained on the circle from the north.

In 1854AD, only 13 stones were still standing. In 1906AD, The Ring of Brodgar was taken into state care, and restoration work was carried out to re-erect the surviving fallen stones, with care taken (as far as was possible at the time) to place them in their original sockets.

Today, The Ring of Brodgar is undoubtedly one of the most stunning ancient sites that the British Isles has to offer. The monument is truly superlative. Set against the stunning backdrop of Orkney, with breathtaking views out across the surrounding lochs towards the windswept hills in the distance, it is hard to imagine a better location for a stone circle.

Despite a regular flow of tourists, it's not unusual to find yourself alone at The Ring of Brodgar (if you're willing to visit in the early morning or evening, at any rate). The weather is harsh here, with bitter winds and driving rain - but it can also change rapidly, offering dramatic skies and exquisite light. The ferocious weather only adds to the drama of the location, and I felt most at home here whilst being battered by the elements as I walked amongst the stones. It's a lonely experience in the best possible sense.

In every way, The Ring of Brodgar comes with the highest recommendation. This is an exquisitely beautiful site, rich in history, archaeology and atmosphere. Orkney is hard to reach, but the journey is a modern pilgrimage, and one that I urge anyone to make.