The Ring of Brodgar: it all began, so the story goes,(one of them, anyway, there are several) with a fiddle player.
The Ring of Brodgar is on Mainland, the principal island of Orkney, an archipelago which lies off the north coast of Caithness, in Scotland.
It is said that on misty night long ago, giants were walking — trudging, perhaps, after a hard day of giant work — across this land. A fiddler stood beside their road, and began to play.
Filled with joy, the giants began to dance. Round and round, back and forth they danced .
So filled with joy were they that dancers and fiddler alike lost track of time. In the way of legends, that was a serious mistake.
As the first glints of sunlight struck them, the dancers and the fiddler tuned to stone.
If you visit the stones on a misty evening, you might come to believe that,
Whatever your choice about such a legend, the Ring of Brodgar is both impressive and mysterious.
The individual stones are smaller than other places where standing stone gather. They range in height from 7 feet (2.1 metres) to 15ft 3in (4.7 metres ). The size of an average giant you might say. By comparison, the stones at Stonehenge are about 30 feet tall. Those at Callanais on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles are about 12 feet tall.
The Ring of Brodgar is a fair size across, as well, at 340 feet (103.6 metres) one of the largest stone circles in the British Isles.
There are at present more than 20 stones standing. There may have been as many as 40 at one time, and it’s possible there were even more.
There is also one stone which stands outside the circle. It was nicknamed the Comet Stone by an archaeologist who saw it as that configuration related to the stone circle. In legend, this is the stone of the fiddler.
Giants and legends aside, the Ring of Brodgar is a mysterious place. Who built it? and why?
The stones were set in place at some point between 2500 and 2000 BCE, archaeology reveals. The stones were hewn from different places on Mainland. Most are blue grey, though there some which are reddish brown and yellow.
Ideas, theories, and speculations about what the site was used for vary. Some think it was an astronomical observatory to do with the moon, others believe it was a meeting place, or a place for ceremonies, or a place to honor ancestors. Some think the building of the site, which must have been quite an event in those prehistoric times, was the purpose, rather than the long existence of the stone circle.
The truth is, we don’t know why it was built or how it was used. There are mounds and cairns nearby, which suggest the site was considered with reverence for long years after the stones were set it place.
It was an area of meaning before the ring came to be, too.
People had been living along the Ness of Brodgar for perhaps more than a thousand year before the ring was built. The chambered tomb and cairn at Maes Howe was already in existence, and nearby, the Stones of Stenness stood, both across the Ness Of Brodgar from where the ring would come it be. There’s a fresh water loch to one side of the narrow isthmus of the Ness, and a sea water loch (still a bog at the time the ring was being built) on the other. There are a smaller mounds and cairns in the area, and a bit further away, archaeology suggests that people lived — but not in the area of the ring.
Jeana Leslie and Kristan Harvey, both native Orcadians, both members of the band Fara , and both fiddle players, took a visit to the area as part of their Orkney Series of videos. In this short piece you’ll get an idea of what the area looks like, enjoy a dash or two of humour, and hear a bit if excellent fiddle playing, as well,
The Ring of Brodgar is a bit north of Stromness, in the west Mainland of Orkney, You can reach it by car, public transport and if you’re up for a bit of along walk, on foot. Along with Maes Howe, Skara Brae, and the Stones of Stenness, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. It is managed by Historic Environment Scotland.
The Ring of Brodgar is an ancient, place, a place which invites questions and reflection, and thoughts of those who built this place, and what their lives might have been like. It can be, as the saying goes, a place where the world id thin.
Photograph of solitary stone by Bob Embleton.
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