In Search Of The Callanish Standing Stones

Calanais at sunrise

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I had been wanting to visit the famous Callanish Standing Stones, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, for a long time. I finally got my chance last summer, during a road trip around Scotland. The stones were everything I had expected, but I was unprepared for the fact that there is not just one stone circle, but several, scattered around the island.

The Stones Of Calanais

The largest and most famous stone circle on Lewis is known as Callanish I (or Calanais in Gaelic). Built around 2900 BCE it consists of a circle with a central monolith, so that the whole construction is like a cross. An avenue of stones leads towards the main circle.

Callanish standing stones
Calanais – the largest stone circle on Lewis

There is a burial chamber at the centre of the circle. However this was added later, and the purpose of the original site is unknown. It is likely that there was some ritual aspect, and there are theories about astronomical measurement. At one time people believed that it was a group of giants who had been turned to stone for refusing to convert to Christianity!

Callanish burial chamber
There is a burial chamber at the centre of the stone circle

Callanish At Sunrise

We were lucky to be staying in a cottage which had a view of Calanais, spread out like a line of teeth on a nearby hilltop. Because we were so close we could walk up to the stones at the beginning and the end of each day. So we got to avoid most of the tourists (overcrowding isn’t a major problem here, but there is the occasional coach party).

Callanish stones
An avenue of stones leads away from the main circle

But the main benefit was being at Callanish at sunrise. Being in such a remote location, with hardly a sign of human habitation, it would be easy to assign a mystical quality to the light creeping over the stones. One arm of the cross seemed to be pointing towards the sun, the shadows of the stones aligned with one another. However I accept that this might be coincidence…

Calanais at sunrise
Calanais at sunrise

Stone Circles And Standing Stones

The first inkling I got of the existence of the other stones was when the owner of our cottage said we would be able to see two stone circles from our front door, and that there was another within easy walking distance. In fact, the sequence goes up to Callanish XII. These sites are a mixture of stone circles, individual standing stones and other ancient structures.

Callanish II
Callanish II (look carefully and you’ll see Callanish I on the hilltop in the distance)

We walked up to Callanish II and Callanish III. These are both small circles, but Callanish III is the more complete, with eight stones on the outer circle (some of these are thought to represent an ancient Celtic goddess). From Callanish II we could see both I and III – presumably it was deliberate that they were all in the same sight line.

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Looking For The Callanish Stones

Some of the sites were easier to find than others. But the search took us to places we might not have visited otherwise, like the tiny island of Bernera. And, because the sites tended to be built on hilltops, we were rewarded with some stunning views.

Steinacleit, Isle of Lewis
Steinacleit – is this an ancient site or not?

On our last day we came across the site of Steinacleit. This was discovered as a result of peat digging in the 1920s, and is not part of the Callanish sequence. It appears to be a stone circle with a cairn, surrounded by a much larger circle. However, no-one seems to be quite sure what it is, or even whether it is an ancient monument at all. Obviously the island is still holding on to some of its mysteries!

Callanish standing stones
Pinnable image of Callanish I and Callanish VIII

More Stone Circles In Britain And Ireland

If you would like to explore some more of the stone circles of Britain and Ireland have a look at some of these posts:


6 thoughts on “In Search Of The Callanish Standing Stones”

  1. We’re fascinated by these archaeological sites. Love the article and just enough explanation to get one’s curiosity going. And love the photos.

    1. Hi Carol, there are lots of these stone circles (and other neolithic sites) all around the British Isles, and on mainland Europe too. Hopefully you’ll be able to see some of them…

  2. The Callanish Standing Stones may be famous on your side of the pond, Karen, but I’ve not previously heard of them. thx for enlightening me. It looks like quite a magical place.

    1. Hi Doreen, Callanish is quite famous over here, but nowhere near as well known as Stonehenge! In fact I wasn’t really aware of it myself until a few years ago…

  3. We have to be honest and tell you we had never heard of the Callanish Standing Stones. These archaeological sites are so interesting to visit, as they start a flood of questions about their purpose. Now that you have piqued our interest, we will need to learn more about this site.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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