A Guide to Standing Stones in Scotland

Clava Cairns

Scotland is a country steeped in history and culture, with many ancient landmarks and monuments that have stood the test of time. You'll find standing stones in Scotland that have been around for ages, scattered all over the place. They've definitely stood the test of time! People have been captivated by these mysterious structures for ages and they still manage to attract tourists from all corners of the globe.

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Table of Contents

Standing stones are thought to have been erected by the first settlers in Scotland over 10,000 years ago.

They consist of one or more large stones standing upright in the ground, often arranged in a circle or other pattern.

While the purpose of these structures remains a mystery, they are believed to have been used for religious or ceremonial purposes.

Some theories suggest that they may have been used to mark astronomical events, such as solstices or equinoxes

If you’re thinking of visiting Scotland and checking out those ancient landmarks, it’s key to know where to find them and what to keep an eye out for.

A guide on standing stones in Scotland can be super helpful in uncovering the secrets of these intriguing structures and diving into the country’s fascinating history.

From the iconic Callanish stones on the Isle of Lewis to the hidden gem of Machrie Moor standing stones on the Isle of Arran, there are plenty of amazing sites to check out and fascinating stories waiting to be discovered!

History of Standing Stones in Scotland

Scotland is known for its numerous standing stones and stone circles that have been standing for thousands of years. These ancient monuments have captivated the imagination of people for centuries.

The meaning behind these standing stones has always puzzled historians and archaeologists and will always remain a mystery.

Historians believe that many of these standing stone sites were used for religious or ceremonial purposes.

The stones were often erected in a circular or semi-circular formation and were arranged in such a way that they aligned with the sun, moon, and stars.

This suggests that the people who built these monuments had a strong connection to the natural world and were skilled astronomers.

A standing stone by the path to Fast Castle
A standing stone by the path to Fast Castle

The earliest standing stones in Scotland date back to the Neolithic period, which began around 4000 BC.

The people who built these stones were some of the earliest settlers in Scotland and were responsible for introducing agriculture and animal farming to the area.

These early settlers built their homes from timber and thatch and were skilled in making pottery.

As the centuries passed, the people of Scotland continued to build standing stones and stone circles.

Many of these monuments were built during the Bronze Age, which began around 2000 BC.

During this time, the people of Scotland were skilled metalworkers and were able to create intricate designs on their weapons and jewellery.

The Iron Age, which began around 800 BC, saw the construction of many hill forts and brochs in Scotland.

These stone structures were built for defensive purposes and were often located on high ground.

The people who built these structures were skilled in stonemasonry and were able to create intricate designs on the stones.

Types of Standing Stones

Standing stones come in different shapes and sizes, and they were erected for various reasons. Here are some of the most common types of standing stones found in Scotland:

Menhirs

A menhir is basically a big ol’ upright stone that humans put in the ground back in the day. They’re also known as standing stones, orthostats, or liths.

These large upright stones go way back to the middle Bronze Age in Europe and they were often used as boundary markers, grave markers, or as part of religious rituals.

The Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis are an excellent example of menhirs.

Calanais Standing Stones
Calanais Standing Stones @ Photo calanais.org/

Stone Circles

Stone circles are a group of standing stones arranged in a circle. They were constructed during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods, and they were often used for religious ceremonies or as astronomical observatories.

The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney is one of the most famous stone circles in Scotland.

Henges

Henges are circular or oval-shaped earthworks that often contain a ditch and a bank. They were constructed during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods, and they were often used for religious or ceremonial purposes.

So, it turns out that people are occasionally buried at henges and circles, but that doesn’t seem to have been their main reason for being there.

They are better interpreted as places where communities who lived rather mobile lives gathered periodically for meetings and ceremonies of various kinds.

The Standing Stones of Stenness in Orkney are an excellent example of a henge

Standing Stones of Stenness
Standing Stones of Stenness @Photo Orkney.com_Stone Circles Scotland

Alignments

Alignments are rows of standing stones that are often placed in straight lines.

They were constructed during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods, and they were often used as markers for astronomical events or as part of religious rituals.

The Clava Cairns near Inverness is an excellent example of an alignment.

Pictish Stones

Pictish stones are carved stones that were created by the Picts, an ancient Celtic people who lived in Scotland during the early medieval period.

They often feature intricate carvings of animals, people, and symbols, and they were often used as grave markers or as part of religious rituals.

The Hilton of Cadboll Stone in Easter Ross is an excellent example of a Pictish stone.

Knocknagael Boar Stone, a large carved symbol stone decorated with the enigmatic mirror and case symbol alongside a wild boar and the hill fort of Craig Phadrig is just a few minutes drive from Inverness are one of the many sites ideal for exploring on foot or by bike.

Whithorn Museum contains a collection of over 60 of these stones dating from the tenth and eleventh century
Whithorn Museum contains a collection of over 60 of these stones dating from the tenth and eleventh century

Famous Standing Stones

Scotland is home to some of the most famous standing stones in the world. These ancient monuments have captivated the imagination of people for thousands of years.

Callanish Stones

The Callanish Stones, also known as the Standing Stones of Callanish, are located on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis.

This stone circle is composed of 13 standing stones that form a cross-like shape. The tallest stone stands at 4.8 meters high. Archaeologists believe that the Callanish Stones were erected between 2900 and 2600 BCE.

Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic henge and stone circle located on the Mainland of Orkney. This stone circle is composed of 27 standing stones that form a perfect circle.

The tallest stone stands at 4.7 meters high. Archaeologists believe that the Ring of Brodgar was erected around 2500 BCE

ring of brodgar
Ring of Brodgar@Photo orkney.com

Kilmartin Glen

The tiny village of Kilmartin is the centre of the greatest concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites.

The whole Kilmartin Glen, overlooking the Sound of Jura, is filled with mounds, standing stones, rock carvings and cairns – 150 prehistoric sites and 300 other ancient monuments within 10km.

kilmartin-glen
Kilmartin-Glen @Robin-Mckelvie_Wild About Argyll

Machrie Moor Standing Stones Isle of Arran

If you take a stroll east of the abandoned Moss Farm, you’ll spot six stone circles on the moor.

Some of these circles are made up of big granite boulders, while others are constructed using these tall red sandstone pillars.

The moor is jam-packed with other ancient goodies like standing stones, burial cairns, and cists. 

Clava Cairns Inverness

Clava Cairns are remains of an ancient graveyard, perched on a terrace overlooking the River Nairn.

The Clava Cairns, which are approximately 4,000 years old, were constructed as burial sites for the deceased.

This cemetery has remained a sacred place in the landscape for thousands of years, offering valuable insights into the beliefs of Bronze Age society.

Clava Cairns
Clava Cairns

Symbolism and Interpretations

Standing stones in Scotland are known for their enigmatic symbols and carvings. While their exact meanings are not fully understood, many theories and interpretations have been put forth by archaeologists and historians over the years.

One of the most common interpretations is that the symbols on the stones were used for religious or spiritual purposes.

Some believe that the stones were used as a kind of calendar to mark the changing seasons or important astronomical events.

Others suggest that they were used as a form of communication between different tribes or groups.

Another theory is that the symbols on the stones represent important cultural or historical events.

For example, some of the symbols may be representations of battles or conquests, while others may be related to important figures or leaders in Scottish history.

 

In addition to their symbolic meanings, the stones themselves are often seen as objects of great significance.

Many believe that they were erected as a way of marking important locations or as a form of commemoration for the dead.

Despite the many theories and interpretations surrounding the standing stones, their true meanings may never be fully understood.

However, their enduring presence in the Scottish landscape serves as a reminder of the rich history and culture of this ancient land

Visiting Standing Stones and Visitor Etiquette

When visiting standing stones in Scotland, it is important to be respectful of the historical significance of these ancient monuments.

Here are some tips for proper visitor etiquette:

  • Do not climb on the stones or touch them excessively.
  • Do not litter or leave any trash behind.
  • Do not disturb any wildlife or vegetation in the area.
  • Do not bring any pets with you, as they may damage the site.
  • Do not light fires or smoke in the area.
  • Do not vandalize or deface the stones in any way.

 

By following these guidelines, visitors can help preserve these important historical sites for future generations to enjoy.

 

Overall, visiting standing stones in Scotland can be a fascinating and educational experience for those interested in history and archaeology.

By following proper visitor etiquette and planning a visit during the best time of year, visitors can fully appreciate the beauty and significance of these ancient sites.

These standing stones continue to intrigue and amaze people from all over the world. Visitors to Scotland can explore these ancient sites and marvel at the engineering feats of our ancestors

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About me
Scotland Itinerary planning

My name is Kate and I created Scotland Itinerary Planning to give you those life-changing experiences right in the beautiful country I call home.

I’m proud to live in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the world’s most beautiful capital cities. Living in Edinburgh has provided me a base to explore extensively around this magical little country.

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