the oldest rocks to be found on the surface of the earth are
in Scotland, and in this strange, age-old landscape on the west
coast of the island of Lewis is the remarkable site of Callanish,
regarded by some a second in importance only to Stonehenge.
This is a complex site and, probably due to its remoteness,
not a great deal is known about it. The principal feature is
a circle of tall stone slabs. Leading from this in a northerly
direction is an avenue of two rows of stones, while to the east,
south and west run shorter single rows, thus making the whole
layout a basic cross shape. The circle is formed by thirteen
stones and has a radius of 21 feet (6.5 metres), with a single
stone 15 feet (4.6 metres) tall stading near the centre. Also
inside the circle are the remains of a chambered round cairn
of Neolithic type, but archaeologists are undecided whether
this was built before or after the stone circle and stone rows,
which have all been dated to the Bronze Age. The northern avenue
has nineteen stones still standing and is 275 fee (8.3 metres)
long and 27 feet (8 metres) wide; the other three rows have
four, four and six (in the southern row) stones. In 1857 the
site was excavated, but only a fragment of human bone was found,
so it is probable that the grave was emptied at ancient times.
Stonehenge, recent research has been directed to accurately
surveying the layout of the site and the alignments that some
of the stones make with points on the horizon at which the sun,
moon and some major stars are seen to rise or set at certain
times in the year. For example, Professor Alexander Thom, who
has surveyed hundreds of circles throughout the British Isles,
finds that looking south along the line of stone avenue gives
the point at which the midsummer full moon sets behind Mount
Clisham, 16 miles (26 Kilometres) distant. And the other stone
rows also indicate significant points on the horizon.
explains the presence of these stones by saying that when the
giants of old who then lived on the island refused to be christened
or to build a church, St Kieran, who led the Christian mission
to the island, turned them to stone. Another story tells how
in a time of famine a white cow appeared from the sea and directed
the women to take their milk pails to the old stone circle,
where she provided everyone with one pailful of milk each night.
A witch tried to get two pailsful but without success, so she
returned next time with a sieve which she milked the cow dry.
After that it was never again seen at the Callanish stones.
Another local belief of this Gaelic-speaking community was that
when the sun rose on midsummer morn the shinning one
walked along the stone avenue, his arrival heralded by the Cuckoos
call. Could this be a much-distorted memory of the astronomical
significance of the Callanish stones?
A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain by Janet and Colin