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Stanes of Stenness Stone Circle

Orkney, Scotland

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"A part of the World Heritage Site - Heart of Neolithic Orkney"

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The stones are thin slabs, approximately 300mm (1ft) thick. Four, up to about 5m (16ft) high, were originally elements of an elliptical shaped stone circle of 12 stones, about 32m (104ft) diameter, on a levelled platform of 44m (144ft) diameter.  The circle was surrounded by a rock-cut ditch 2m deep, 7m wide and 44m in diameter which has become filled-in over the years.  It is surrounded by an earth bank, with a single entrance causeway on the north side. The entrance faces towards the Neolithic Barnhouse Settlement which has been found adjacent to the Loch of Harray. The Watch Stone stands outside the circle to the north-west and is 5.6m (18ft) high.

Excavation has revealed a square setting of stones and bedding holes for further uprights, either stone or wooden.

Other smaller stones include a square stone setting in the centre of the circle platform where cremated bone, charcoal and pottery were found, and animal bones were found in the ditch. The pottery links the monument to Skara Brae and Maeshowe, and the site is thought to date from at least 3000BC.

Even in the 18th century the site was still associated with traditions and rituals, by then relating to Norse Gods. It was visited by Walter Scott in 1814. Other antiquarians documented the stones and recorded local traditions and beliefs about them. One stone, known as the "Odin Stone" was pierced with a circular hole, and was used by local couples for plighting

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engagements by holding hands through the gap. It was also associated with other ceremonies and believed to have magical power.

In December 1814 Captain W. Mackay, a recent immigrant to Orkney who owned farmland in the vicinity of the stones, decided to remove them on the grounds that local people were trespassing and disturbing his land by using the stones in rituals. He started in December 1814 by smashing the "Odin Stone".

This caused outrage and he was stopped after destroying one other stone and toppling another. The toppled stone was re-erected in 1906 along with some inaccurate reconstruction inside the circle. However, even the few stones that have survived are said to create a powerful atmosphere hinting at the distant past. As to the destroyed stone, apparently the part with the hole was used as the pivot for a horse mill but was destroyed after World War II.

It is sited on a promontory at the south bank of the stream that joins the southern ends of the sea loch 'Loch of Stenness' and the freshwater loch 'Loch of Harray'. The name, pronounced stane-is, comes from Old Norse meaning 'stone headland'. The stream is now bridged, but at one time was crossed by a stepping stone causeway, and the Ring of Brodgar lies about 1.2 km (3/4 mile) away to the north-west, across the stream and near the tip of the isthmus formed between the two lochs. Maes Howe  chambered cairn is about 1.2 km (3/4 mile) to the east of the Standing Stones of Stenness and several other Neolithic monuments also lie in the vicinity, suggesting that this area had particular importance.

Information on alignments of some other nearby stones can be found at http://www.maeshowe.co.uk/maeshowe/standing.html.

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Further information Grid



Stenness Stone Circle, Near Finstown, Orkney, Scotland

Ceremonial County: Orkney Isles

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo:  



Best Times to Visit:







Other useful websites:




Nearby Locations:

Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle

Maes Howe

Skara Brae

Other Relevant pages:

Our section on stone circles

The discussion on the purpose of stone circles

World Heritage Sites     

World Heritage Sites - Further Information

World Heritage Sites in the UK



Planning Grid


Stenness Stone Circle, Near Finstown, Orkney, Scotland

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

Immediately east of B9055, and well signposted.


Road side


On road or provided parking



Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Stone circle, a range of stone circles and other sites are in the area

What to take:


Nature highlights:

There is significant bird life present in the lochs on either side of this site. About two miles to the south is the Burn of Ayreland as it discharges to the Clestrain Sound.







Opening times:

All the time


Free entry

Photo Restrictions:


Other Restrictions: none
Special Needs Access:  
Special Needs Facilities:  
Children Facilities:  
Dogs Allowed:  

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park Section: Stone Circles Section Key:
Page Ref: stenness_stone_circle Topic: Stone Circles Last Updated: 07/2009


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