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Callanais (Callanish) Stone Circle

Situated near the village of Calanais, Isle of Lewis on a ridge of land above Loch Roag, Callanais is one of the more remote stone circles in the British Isles. The circle consists of a central stone just under five metres in height, surrounded by a circle of thirteen stones.

To the North a double avenue of stones runs from the circle for eighty metres, probably the original entrance to the site. To the South, East and West run three single rows of stones forming the arms of a cross, the Southern arm extending slightly longer than the East and West alignments.

The Stones were quarried and erected at the site between 2900 - 2600 BC during what is known as the Neolithic period. There is some evidence to suggest earlier structures at the site. A short period of time after the construction of the circle, a chambered cairn was built between the central standing stone and the circle. This was ransacked around 1950BC give and take a few hundred years, at a time when the site fell out of ritual use. A climate change around the same time led to the formation of the blanket bogs seen in the area today. The stones were actually buried up to 1 metre in depth in the bogs until 1857, when a local landowner had the peat removed.

Ancient Astronomy
As with many other stone circles in Britain, Callanais is said to incorporate many astronomical alignments within its structure. Alexander Thom who investigated the site, found that the Southern stone alignment, points to the setting Midsummer full moon behind Mount Clisham.

The stones are known as 'Fir Bhreig' meaning the false men in Gaelic, it is possible they were looked upon as petrified people in the distant past. A legend suggest that the stones were giants, turned to stone by St Kieran when they would not convert to Christianity.

The stones were also said to have a spectral visitation on the dawn of the Midsummer Solstice. A shinning figure is said to walk down Northern avenue heralded by the call of a Cuckoo. This may be a folk memory of astronomical alignments or seasonal ritual at the site.

One tale that has a common variant in other areas, is the tale of a white fairy cow, that came out of the sea during a year of harsh famine. The cow made its way to the stones and allowed itself to be milked by the people of the village. They were each allowed 1 pail of milk. A local witch came to the cow and tried to get 2 pails, she was refused and returned with a sieve and proceded to milk the cow dry.

Directions: The stone circle is situated on a minor road from the A958. The circle is signposted and the site is approached through a visitors centre.

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Image Copyright: 
Daniel Parkinson
Daniel Parkinson

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