Ness of Brodgar and the standing stones

Ness of Brodgar
Ness of Brodgar excavations

Here’s something that wasn’t there on our last visit to Orkney! Well, it was, but it was buried under a farmer’s field. Ness of Brodgar is a thin finger of land between two lochs – to the south lie the Stones of Stenness and to the north the Ring of Brodgar (see below for more on both). The area is known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999 (Skara Brae and Maes Howe are also nearby.) In 2003, a plough uncovered a large, worked stone and subsequent excavations revealed that the entire area of the Ness was covered with 5000 year old structures. We were lucky enough to visit the site on a day when an archaeologist was giving a tour and we spent 90 fascinating minutes having it explained to us and viewing some of the artefacts. The dig only takes place for a few weeks each year – if you are visiting Orkney in 2016, try to be there between 6th July and 24th August.

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar is a 104m diameter circle with 27 of (possibly) 60 original stones still standing. It’s very dramatic.

Stones of Stenness

This is a smaller circle with four of its original 12 stones – the tallest is a slender 16 feet.

Nearby is Barnhouse, a Neolithic village which was occupied c 3200-2900 BC. What a beautiful place to live – I’d love that view, but only with 21st century living conditions!

Maes Howe

Maes Howe
Maes Howe

Maes Howe is one of Europe’s most impressive Neolithic burial chambers (3000 BC). There’s not much to see but a mound from the outside and photography is not allowed inside. You enter down a long, narrow passage which is aligned so that at the winter solstice the light of the setting sun shines straight down it and illuminates the back of the central chamber. Fortunately for my back, although it’s a small chamber, you can then stand upright. The tomb was discovered in 1861, but was more or less empty by then thanks to centuries of grave-robbing. Some intruders had left their marks – there’s a lot of Viking graffiti! Our guide said they used to call one section the postcard wall, but now she felt it was more like Twitter with its brief updates such as “Thor and I bedded Helga”.

Maes Howe operates on a timed-ticket system and you might have to book a couple of days in advance to get the slot you want, but it’s a must-see. It’s probably one of the two most famous sites on Orkney, the other being Skara Brae. I’ll tell you about it in my next post.


28 thoughts on “Ness of Brodgar and the standing stones

  1. VioletSky September 14, 2015 / 15:36

    Those Stones of Stenness look almost like a modern day art installation!


    • Anabel Marsh September 14, 2015 / 15:48

      I suppose they do! Yet they are 1000s of years old – nothing new under the sun, eh?


  2. Pit September 14, 2015 / 15:44

    I’m always fascinated by these stone circles. Amazing, what our ancestors were able to accomplish.
    Have a wonderful week,


    • Anabel Marsh September 14, 2015 / 15:49

      I know, the engineering and sheer brute force that went into these structures is amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. vannillarock September 14, 2015 / 15:56

    loved the post -wow, those standing stones-and good advice re the timed ticket booking.
    would love to visit – and now I’ve been to the Lake district who knows what’s possible LOL


    • Anabel Marsh September 14, 2015 / 16:23

      There are so many wonderful places to discover in our islands – I haven’t been abroad this year at all, yet I’ve seen so much. Still, I feel the lure of a foreign holiday pulling at me……

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Birgit September 15, 2015 / 03:32

    I just find all of this so fascinating! The stones and why they were placed up and I would love to visit sites when they are digging. I love the graffiti wall and Vikings did get around. Keep fingers crossed-computer is working again…for now


    • Anabel Marsh September 15, 2015 / 07:47

      It is amazing what our prehistoric ancestors achieved. Good job the didn’t have Windows 10 to hold them back! 😉


  5. Alex Hurst September 16, 2015 / 03:41

    Another gorgeous area. I almost like those standing stones more than Stonehenge’s. Really interesting. 🙂


  6. Eli September 17, 2015 / 10:07

    That ring of brodgar is really impressive! Amazing sight. How great that you got a tour by archaeologists, that must have been very interesting. Well, and what can I say… those vikings….


  7. Nadine Feldman (@Nadine_Feldman) September 18, 2015 / 16:30

    How cool is that — to see something “new” in a place you’ve visited before. I pulled up Orkney on the map…you were really off the beaten path! It looks really interesting.


    • Anabel Marsh September 18, 2015 / 17:35

      It was – though Shetland, where we started, is even further out.


  8. jazzfeathers September 18, 2015 / 22:23

    Anabel, I hate you.
    More gorgeous photos… I mean what can I say abotu those standign stones? I’ve seen too few of them in my life 😦

    I was in s similar tomb in Ireland a few years ago. It’s an emotional experience. And wahta about Viking Twitter? 😉


    • Anabel Marsh September 18, 2015 / 22:30

      Well, my husband took most of the pictures so you’ll have to hate him too! 😉 The Vikings were maybe a bit wild. But then we knew that.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thom Hickey September 19, 2015 / 13:31

    Evocative and somewhat eerie too. Must plan a trip soon! Regards Thom.


  10. anotherday2paradise September 19, 2015 / 13:57

    I find these ancient standing stones so awe inspiring. It’s almost as though one is on hallowed ground, and the imagination runs riot thinking of how they came to be there, and all the people who have been there before me. Thanks for the ‘Twitter Graffiti’ smiles. 🙂


  11. lisadorenfest September 19, 2015 / 23:10

    I was not familiar with these very interesting sites. You’ve captured them beautifully! My favorite series is the Ring of Brodgar


    • Anabel Marsh September 19, 2015 / 23:16

      They are all spectacular, I can’t decide on a favourite.


  12. rosemaylily2014 September 20, 2015 / 09:21

    Fascinating Anabel – what amazing structures all these stones are! Love the modern interpretation of the Viking graffiti – it was probably like that! I would love the views too but also with 21st century living conditions – I should imagine it gets rather brisk in the winter to say the least! Wonderful photos thanks for sharing 🙂


    • Anabel Marsh September 20, 2015 / 09:45

      It was rather brisk when we were there! Despite the blue skies in some pictures there was always a strong wind. Standing for an hour listening to the archaeologist I had a fleece, winter jacket and woolly hat and still felt cold. Living in stone houses …… brrrr!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. restlessjo September 25, 2015 / 18:32

    Amazing how some of these stones have withstood time (and weather!) 🙂


    • Anabel Marsh September 25, 2015 / 19:04

      I know! Lost in admiration for ancient peoples and what they achieved. Our buildings would be long gone.

      Liked by 1 person

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