The Watchstone, Barnhouse Stone and Odinstone, Stenness

Apart from the two henges, there are several other interesting monoliths in the area.  Most notable of these are the Watchstone, situated at the south end of the Brodgar Bridge overlooking the Loch of Stenness and the Hoy Hills, the now non-existent Odein Stone, and the Barnhouse Stone which lies in a field to the south.

Autumn equinox sunset from the Watchstone

At midwinter the sun sets between the Ward Hill and Cuilags on Hoy, such that it is easily possible to judge the day of winter solstice, when the sun sets at its most southerly.  It could also in principle define the autumn equinox as there is a long sight line across the loch to the Sandwick hills,  Stenness Loch is open to the sea at the Brig O'Waithe, and as a result its brackish waters suppost salt water fish and even common seals as well as trout.  

The Watchstone is the biggest of all the monoliths in this area, and while several other isolated stones may well have esisted in the past, its position, imposing size and the view from it all suggest that it had an important role to play in the Neolithic.

Winter solstice sunset from the Watchstone At the Winter Solstice when viewed from the Watchstone, the sun disappears behind the top of the Ward Hill of Hoy for several minutes, and then reappears momentarily at the bottom of the north flank of the hill.  The actual date of furthest declination to the south is clearly apparent from this position.


Winter solstice sunset from the Watchstone Just after Winter Solstice from the Watchstone, the glow of the sun shows clearly in the notch in the Hoy Hills. The so-called "flashing" phenomenon occurs here also but on different days than when observed from Maeshowe.  There is also a similar event earlier and later in the year, when the sun "flashes" behind Cuilags and the Kame of Hoy.  So far, due to the lack of suitable sunsets in November and February this has not been recorded on film.  However it will be in future!

Old artist's impression of the Odinstone The Odinstone was destroyed by a farmer in 1814.  He also wanted to desecrate the Standing Stones of Stenness, but luckily he was restrained before he did so.  In fact part of the stone survived until recently, being used to support the drive of a threshing mill.

There was a hole though the monolith which was reputed to have strong powers.  Lovers clasped hands through the hole and swore their everlasting love.  The "Oath of Odin" was then said and the contract was binding forwever.  In fact other forms of contract were also carried out here, in what may have been a very ancient ceremony.  The proximity to the henges, Maeshowe and Barnhouse suggest that this stone, whose socket has been found was an important part of the monument complex in this area.

Barnhouse Stone, with Standing Stones and Brodgar in the background The Barnhouse stone, now rather meanly surrounded by four straining posts and inaccessible in the middle of a field, lies south west of Maeshowe, almost in line with its entry passage, and south east of the Standing Stones.  Several alignments are possible from here, especially at summer solstice sunset, when the sun sets in the north west.  Endless speculation is possible about the role these fascinating stones played in the life of the Neolithic people.  This is all part of the fun of a visit to them!

The finest example of a chambered cairn in Orkney
Chambered Cairns
Tombs dating from the Neolithic - approx 5,000 years ago
Twelfth century Vikings left many runic inscriptions in Maeshowe
Skara Brae
Famous Neolithic village at Bay of Skaill dating from 3rd Millenium BC
Ring of Brodgar
Orkney's dramatic and impressive henge monument
Standing Stones
Stone circle near Maeshowe
Barnhouse Settlement
Neolithic settlement near the Standing Stones of Stenness
Other Standing Stones
The Watchstone, Odinstone and Barnhouse Stone

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