diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Postcard from the Hebrides: Solstice stones

Forget Stonehenge. A much better place to celebrate this morning's summer solstice is the stone circle at Callanish on the north-west coast of Lewis [photos]. This is one of the largest megalithic sites in Britain, dating back to approximately 2600BC (making it even older than Stonehenge). Several smaller circles are scattered around the surrounding mooorland, but the main feature is a ring of 13 tall monoliths at the centre of two intersecting avenues of standing stones. Legend tells that "the shining one" walks amongst the stones on midsummer's dawn, his arrival heralded by the cuckoo's call. If you're up early enough, check out the webcam and see for yourself.

A very rare lunar alignment is visible at Callanish every 19 years when the moon appears especially low in the sky. First the moon rises over the hills to the southeast [photo], whose curvaceous silhouette is said to resemble a sleeping woman [what do you think?]. Viewed from the main avenue the moon then skims and dips below the southern horizon before reappearing directly behind the central stones. Alas I arrived at the stones the day after the special full moon, missing the phenomenon by approximately 12 hours. Ah well. Apparently it's almost as spectacular in mid-July, but then you'll have to wait until 2025 for another dose of spiritual moonshine. [full details] [report]

The close proximity of this celestial event probably explained the mini campsite of toking pagans I observed tented up on the hillside nearby. It was more disturbing to discover cheap tealights laid out behind some of the stones - clearly offerings to the great Norse god Ikea. Larger numbers of people were keeping warm and dry inside the tasteful visitor centre at the foot of the hill, home to a small exhibition and a well-attended cafe. But the encroaching tourist trail means that the stones of Callanish are at increasing risk from human erosion. Visitors are urged to keep to a perimeter path around the edge of the main circle, but few do. The humble camera is to blame, as tourists trample across the site to capture conclusive visual evidence of their visit. It's therefore become nigh impossible to take a perfect people-free shot of the site, but I discovered the magic alignment of the stones and managed to grab a photograph without a single luminous kagoule in sight [photo].

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