Thursday, 22 October 2009

Calanais, Lewis

This was something of a pilgrimage for me. I've wanted to see these stones for more years than I care to remember. To make the visit with my 12 year old daughter made it even more special.

The Callanish (Calanais in Gaelic) Stones have been standing since 2900 BC.

Take a minute to think about that.........

Three thousand years before Christ arrived. (and that was supposedly two thousand years ago).

Puts it into perspective a bit.

Situated on the west coast of Lewis, these stones are made of Lewisian gneiss. Dontcha just love the way 'Lewissian gneiss' just trips off the tongue. I can't get it out of my head. (As ELO once said).

The historical bit, courtesy Wikipedia:

Construction of the site took place between 2900 and 2600 BC, though there were possibly earlier buildings before 3000 BC. A tomb was later built into the site. Debris from the destruction of the tomb suggests the site was out of use between 2000 BC and 1700 BC.[1] The 13 primary stones form a circle about 13 m in diameter, with a long approach avenue of stones to the north, and shorter stone rows to the east, south, and west (possibly incomplete avenues). The overall layout of the monument recalls a distorted Celtic cross. The individual stones vary from around 1 m to 5 m in height, with an average of 4 m, and are of the local Lewisian gneiss.

.........'Lewisian gneiss'.......

Say it out loud.......

We stayed for about an hour, my daughter wandering around with the dog, me clicking away like a madman. We timed the visit pretty good in that the weather changed quite dramatically and we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

........ Again, from Wikipedia, that magical duff source of info......

The first written reference to the stones was by Lewis native John Morisone, who in c. 1680 wrote that "great stones standing up in ranks [...] were sett up in place for devotione".
The tallest of the stones marks the entrance to a burial cairn where human remains have been discovered. An excavation campaign in 1980 and 1981 showed that the burial chamber was a late addition to the site, and that it had been modified a number of times. Pottery finds suggested a date of 2200 BC for the erection of the circle. It has been speculated, among other theories, that the stones form a calendar system based on the position of the moon. Professor Alexander Thom suggested that the alignment of the stone avenue (when looking southward) pointed to the setting of midsummer full moon behind a distant mountain called Clisham.
Critics of these theories argue that several alignments are likely to exist purely by chance in any such structure. In addition many factors such as the weathering and displacement of the stones over the millennia mean we can never be certain of any original, possibly intentional, alignments.

Confirming our good fortune, as Fiona, Molly (the dog) and I rested on a bench coming down the hill, a busload of American tourists started to pass us by on the way up to the stones. There must have been forty of them. Nothing against tourists or Americans (in fact they all took a delightful interest in the dog), but it would have altered the experience quite profoundly if we'd been an hour later.

....... I can imagine the place being packed with nutters at the summer solstice......
Again Wikipedia states......
Local tradition says that giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned into stone as a punishment. Another local belief says that at sunrise on midsummer morning, the "shining one" walked along the stone avenue, "his arrival heralded by the cuckoo's call." This legend could be a folk memory recalling the astronomical significance of the stones.

.......But I'd reeeeaaaally like to be the only one up there on Midsummers night to watch for the 'shining one' and listen out for the cuckoo......

wouldn't you?

....... and one more time........ LEWISIAN GNEISS

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  1. A very spescial place to visit. Make you think. Beautiful pictures as well.

  2. Lewisian gneiss...Lewisian gneiss...Lewisian gneiss. Tried it three times. Absolutely awesome captures neil. and the color popped.

    have a fab weekend.

  3. Beautiful shots Neil, the stones are ancient and have an exciting history. Great shadows too, thanks for sharing:)

  4. I am so deeply jealous. I have wanted to see the stones for years as well. Sigh...someday.

  5. OMG Neil, now you've gotten me saying it over and over!! What a fabulous post! And your captures are mind blowing! How I would love to visit there!

    Yes, one more time LEWISIAN GNEISS

    Have a terrific weekend! Oh, I love your daughter's name!


  6. I hope you have a chance to read the book The Motel of the Mysteries, which pokes fun at our attempts to interpret the archaeological past. Here's a quote from a review: "The Motel of the Mysteries is a wonderful send up of the fields of archaeology and history. It's aim is doubtless to entertain, at which it's vastly successful, but over and above that the book makes quite clear what archaeology legitimately can and cannot do. I think it also points out that what is taken as "The Reality" of the past is often as much a function of current cultural biases and of the personal motives of individual researchers as it is of what actually occurred in the past."

    I swiped that quote from by the way.

    Wonderful photos, wonderful words, lovely shadows, and, yes, Lewisian Gneiss to you, too!

  7. A very interesting post! And a lot of beautiful photos. Makes you think.
    Thanks for great info!

  8. What an interesting and informative post. I really enjoyed see and learning more about these stones.

  9. What fantastic pictures Neil. LEWISIAN GNEISS shows up really well when the shots are enlarged. I have been looking closely for a naked man dancing around the LEWISIAN GNEISS stones but you obviously arn't as brave as Billy. I hope to visit one day it looks fantastic.

  10. Totally envious! 2900BC...amazing. Great post!

  11. I will need to put this place on my bucket list.
    Joyce M

  12. Looks like a great place to visit, I enjoyed your photos.

  13. Neil, this is a post deeply suffuses with magic and the magic of the right moment. Obviously you were given the space in time and place that was just for you to deeply experience this wonder. You were also gifted the chanching light so perfect for your wonderful captures.
    I completely agree, with 40 tourists, no matter how appreciative or from where, it certainly would not have been the same.

  14. Wonderful - that last photo is stunning. It's good you had the place to yourselves - too many people spoil the ambience.

  15. I've never been to Harris and Lewis but have now added them to the must visit list. Maybe a motorbike trip next summer.

    The stones look great, I've always wanted to see (not to mention say) LEWISIAN GNEISS.

  16. How wonderful that you got to this place that you always wanted to go. I would like to as well. And the day you had, the green grass, the blue sky and dramatic clouds, oh and all to yourselves! Wonderful. So glad the tourists came later on. Thank you for sharing your time there, beautiful.

  17. "And then a queer thought came to her there in the drooked fields, that nothing endured at all, nothing but the land she passed across, tossed and turned and perpetually changed below the hands of the crofter folk since the oldest of them had set the Standing Stones by the Loch of Blawearie and climbed there on their holy days and saw their terraced crops ride brave in the wind and sun. Sea and sky and the folk who wrote and fought and were learned, teaching and saying and praying, they lasted but as a breath, a mist of fog in the hills, but the land was forever..."

    From a book; you know the one, Neil.

    Thank you for the Lewissian gneiss. :-) You've no idea... (actually you probably do...)

  18. thanks for the Lewis pictures Neil. I used to have a friend from there. She moved back and lives somewhere in the middle, we lost touch which saddens me.

  19. mtb - Beautiful quotation. 'nothing endured'.....'but the land was forever'. Ah Chrissie, Chrissie......

    Mog - On an island like Lewis shouldn't be impossible to find her?

  20. Pics are gorgeous. Glad you got together with Fi.! Your photography is excellent....glad you haven't lost your touch.........

  21. Stunning photos and definitely on my list of places I'd love to visit, if I could just "get over" the CalMac thing.

  22. Gorgeous photos and shadows Neil - a wonderful visit for me, thanks!

    As an aside, the house name of my friend's parents (who were Scottish) home was "Callanish" - I never knew !

  23. There is nothing to say! Your photos are perfect - they show off the place in all it's beauty and isolation. Nice work.

  24. I'd like to visit the place ,it looks magical , thanks for sharing your beautiful shots !

  25. nice pics - you were very fortunate with the changing light

  26. Mrs W - You COULD fly to Stornoway......or is that even worse than Calmac?

  27. Ah Neil, but I live in Canada so it's a long trek.
    Maybe you know her anyway!

  28. I doubt it Mog but if you're serious I could put out some feelers and mebbe find her.... I have contacts there.