The haunting ring of stones (Brodgar Circle) is perhaps the most iconic symbol of Orkney’s prehistoric past, a sub-arctic archipelago located in the north of Scotland, 16 km off the coast of Caithness. It is a hauntingly beautiful site of ritual and ceremony.

The Brodgar Circle is an archaeological treasure and arguably one of the most visited attractions on the island. It can be found in a magical landscape that is the heart of the Neolithic site of Orkney and is one of the most photographed attractions in Orkney, especially at sunset. The Brodgar Ring has been on the World Heritage List since 1999 as part of the ‘Neolithic Heart of Orkney’ property. The ring was built around 2500BC and covers an area of nearly 8,500 square metres, it is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles – second only to Avebury and Stanton Drew.

Visit Brodgar Circle

Brodgar Circle lies about 5m north east of Stromness on the B9055.

Sitting in a natural amphitheatre of hills and surrounded by a moat, 27 of the original 60 megaliths survive today and Historic Scotland’s guided tour of the site is highly recommended to discover the secrets of the ring. But Brodgar Circle is free and open all year round, so you can also visit freely whenever you like. Legend has it that it was a religious shrine and possibly a place of ritual, while others believe that the ring was built for astronomical observation of the equinox and solstice. The truth is that no one knows for sure its origins, which only adds to the mystique of this site.

History of the Brodgar Circle

The Brodgar Circle has never been excavated, so its age is unknown. In the absence of scientific dates, it is estimated that the main ring was built between 2500 and 2000 BC. The surrounding burial mounds and the stonework date to between 2500 and 1500 BCE. Planned in 1882, it was one of the first places to be protected as a site of historic importance in the British Isles.

The Brodgar Circle may have been involved in ceremonies celebrating the relationship between living and past communities. It has also been suggested that sites in the surrounding area were used for moon sightings, although there is little evidence of what Neolithic people did at the site, or why.

It is easy to see why the Neolithic inhabitants of Orkney might have created a ceremonial circle here: surrounded by hills and lochs, the site has a truly spectacular setting. Being at its centre gives the feeling of being in a natural amphitheatre.

Unusually, the ring has a truly circular layout. Of the 60 original stones, 36 survive, ranging from 2.1 to 4.7m high. The stone circle has a diameter of 104m and is surrounded by a rock-cut ditch, or henge, measuring 136m in diameter, making it one of the largest and most beautiful stone circles in the British Isles.

The erection of the stones and construction of the solid rock moat would have required considerable labour and organisation.

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