Close-up of rock texture on a Standing Stone of Stenness

Rock textures on Stones of Stenness

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The Stones of Stenness stand on a narrow strip of land between Harray Loch and Stenness Loch in West Mainland, Orkney. They are slabs of Devonian flagstone from various localities on the Island. The tallest of them stands 16 feet high, and they are all remarkably thin to be surviving at that height. The stones constitute the remaining four of a possible 12 that were erected as a henge monument 5000 years ago. Some additional smaller stone slabs are thought to have been part of a dolmen or burial chamber. Originally the circle of stones was surrounded by a ring ditch and mound. Altogether it is estimated that it would have taken 50,000 hours of work to construct the site. That would be the equivalent of 50 people working 40 hours a week for six months to dig the ditch and raise the stones to a vertical position.

Standing Stones of Stenness in Orkney

We are lucky that these stones exist today because they were not viewed with great respect in the past, being considered useful building materials by some people. In fact, a local tenant farmer was only just stopped in time by the local community from dynamiting them in 1814.  Apparently there is still a hole where the stick of dynamite was placed – but I didn’t see that. Early tourists who came to admire the stones in the 19th century, and maybe earlier, also lacked respect for the stones by carving their initials on them – joining the engraved Pictish symbols hiding on the weathered and lichen encrusted surfaces. Natural erosion by the elements has scoured the surfaces of the stones to reveal the often convoluted rock layers of which they are composed.

Standing Stones of Stenness in Orkney

25 Replies to “Rock textures on Stones of Stenness”

  1. Great pictures of the stones they were on my wish list to make a pilgrimage to. Sadly mobility problems have put paid to that so the pictures are a welcome.

  2. So beautiful pictures! You always manage to capture the details and patterns in your photos!😊 I think the stones are very thin, unbelievable that they can stand up, but they may go deep into the ground?

  3. I have been wanting to visit Orkney for about thirty years and glad that I made it at last. I am sorry to learn that you no longer feel able to make the trip. You would have liked it I am sure, although there are very few trees indeed. I am pleased that the photos interest you.

  4. Thank you, John. I am not sure how far the stones are buried in the ground but you must be right, a deep foundation would be necessary to keep them standing upright.

  5. Thank you, Angela. It does seem strange that people like to deface the things they have travelled to far to see and admire. I took some photos a few years ago on top of the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny of all the graffiti carved into the rock, much of it 19th century or older. Hopefully, fewer people feel the urge to leave their mark in this way nowadays.

  6. Wow, beautiful photos, Jessica – I really enjoyed seeing the textures close up! And how thin they are, as you say – astonishing. Somewhere I’d love to go!

  7. Thank you, Jo. I think you would really enjoy visiting all the archaeological and historic sites in the Orkney Isles or following the new pilgrim trail.

  8. Great photos of a fascinating place Jessica – I’ve usually found standing stones to be difficult to photograph well. Checking in after another long absence and hope all is well 🙂

  9. Nice to hear from you again, Aidy. How are you? I am well now but have had a few ups and downs health-wise and recently I have been busy doing more of my oyster shell research work, so haven’t had a lot of time for writing blog posts.

  10. I’m always intrigued by how civilizations were able to build and erect such enormous stoneworks, whether it’s ritual type features like this or pyramid structures. I love that you focused on the texture of the weathered facades. After seeing your photos I wish I had done the same when at Stonehenge.

  11. Thank you, BespokeTraveller. There are theories about the way the Stones of Stenness were raised by building wedge-shaped platforms of driftwood and gradually increasing the height to slowly lever the stones to the vertical position.
    It was possible at Stenness to get right up close to the stones to take photographs but at Stone Henge access is severely limited. On my visit many years ago we had to keep to a path around the stones and some distance away. No chance of examining the surface of the stones.

  12. Jessica, does #4 show some kind of solar alignment? Or (in view of the history of intervention) more likely put like that to suggest it, maybe? In reply to a couple of comments, defacement of monuments and buildings has a long history. Check round the windows of e.g. old castles. Byron left his mark in various places – Château de Chillon, his rooms in Trinity College Cambridge etc.

  13. Loved this. Very atmospheric, The Orkneys finally seem to be getting more recognition – theyre on my list. These are quite reminiscent of Callanish on Lewis, but such slim stones – fascinating.

  14. Thank you, Coleshed. It has taken me a very long time to make the visit and it was worth it. Full of interest and lots going on in the summer months like a folk festival, archaeological excavations at Ness of Brodgar, and the St Magnus Festival and pilgrim trail.

  15. Hope you have more ups than downs Jessica. I’ve been doing less blogging than you – none really! Still getting out and about which really helps fibromyalgia, but find it hard sitting at the computer to do posts. The condition is more annoying than serious, in my case anyway. All the best – I’ll keep in touch anyway.

  16. Sorry to hear that the fibro myalgia persists but pleased that it does not stop you enjoying the countryside. Take care and keep taking the wonderful photographs.

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