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Gaelic: Calanais
Callanish standing stones 1.jpg
The Callanish Stones
Island: Lewis
Grid reference: NB215332
Location: 58°11’49"N, 6°44’42"W
Post town: Isle of Lewis
Postcode: HS2
Dialling code: 01851
Local Government
Council: Na h-Eileanan Siar
Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Callanish is a village on the West Side of the Isle of Lewis, in the Hebridean part of Ross-shire. A linear settlement with a jetty, it is stands on a headland jutting into Loch Roag, a sea loch, 13 miles west of Stornoway. The fame of this place is the ancient Callanish Stones.

The Callanish Stones, standing stones erected in a cross-shape around 2000 BC, are one of the most spectacular megalithic monuments in North Britain. There is a modern visitor centre which provides information about the main circle and several other lesser monuments nearby.

Callanish Stones

{{main|Callanish Stones}

The stone circle at the centre of the Standing Stones of Callanish ("Callanish I")
A distant view of the circle, stone rows and part of the northern avenue

The Callanish Stones (or "Callanish I"), Clachan Chalanais or Tursachan Chalanais in Gaelic, stand near the village of Callanish, a great monument of standing stones.

Construction and description

Construction of the site took place between 2900 and 2600 BC, though there were possibly earlier buildings before 3000 BC. A tomb was later built into the site. Debris from the destruction of the tomb suggests the site was out of use between 2000 BC and 1700 BC.[1] The 13 primary stones form a circle about 13 m in diameter, with a long approach avenue of stones to the north, and shorter stone rows to the east, south, and west. The overall layout of the monument recalls a distorted Celtic cross. The individual stones vary from around 3 feet to 15 feet in height, with an average of 12 feet, and are of the local Lewisian gneiss.


The first written reference to the stones was by Lewis native John Morisone, who in c. 1680 wrote that "great stones standing up in ranks [...] were sett up in place for devotione".

The tallest of the stones marks the entrance to a burial cairn where human remains have been discovered. An excavation campaign in 1980 and 1981 showed that the burial chamber was a late addition to the site, and that it had been modified a number of times. Pottery finds suggested a date of 2200 BC for the erection of the circle. Alexander Thom and Gerald Hawkins suggested that the stones were a prehistoric lunar observatory. Others have proposed a relationship between the stones, the moon and the Clisham range on Harris. Critics of these theories argue that several alignments are likely to exist purely by chance in any such structure. In addition many factors such as the weathering and displacement of the stones over the millennia mean there can be no certainty of any alignments, original or otherwise. [2]

The stones in folklore and popular culture

Local tradition says that giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned into stone as a punishment. Another local belief says that at sunrise on midsummer morning, the "shining one" walked along the stone avenue, "his arrival heralded by the cuckoo's call."

Popular culture

In 1974, the sculptor Gerald Laing created a work known as Callanish for Strathclyde University's campus in the centre of Glasgow. He created 16 abstract steel girders planted in the ground - intended to mimic the configuration of the real stones. The sculpture is popularly referred to as "Steelhenge".

The stones are featured as a setting in the 1974 novel Lookout Cartridge by American author Joseph McElroy.

In 1984, the new romantic band Ultravox used an image of the stones on the cover of their album Lament. They also used the scenery to record the video of One Small Day, first single taken from that album. In 1988 Jon Mark released a CD, The Standing Stones of Callanish, intended to evoke Britain's Celtic legacy.[3]

Dutch melodic death metal band Callenish Circle took their name from the stones, slightly changing the spelling.

The 2012 Pixar animated film Brave (2012) features several scenes set in and around the stones.

Other nearby sites

Archaeologists usually refer to the main monument as "Callanish I", because there are several other megalithic sites in the vicinity:

  • "Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàraidh" (Callanish II) – stone circle
  • "Cnoc Filibhir Bheag" (Callanish III) – stone circle
  • "Ceann Hulavig" (Callanish IV) – stone circle
  • "Àirigh nam Bidearan" (Callanish V) – stone alignment
  • "Cùl a' Chleit" (Callanish VI) – stone circle
  • "Cnoc Dubh" (Callanish VII) – ancient settlement or "shieling" (stone dwelling used while tending cattle on summer pastures)
  • "Tursachan" (Callanish VIII) – unique semicircular monument at the edge of a sheer cliff on the nearby island of Great Bernera
  • "Àird A' Chaolais" (Callanish VIIIa) - standing stone
  • "Àirigh Nam Bidearan" (Callanish IX) - stones
  • "Na Dromannan" ("Druim Nan Eun") (Callanish X)
  • "Beinn Bheag" (Callanish XI) - standing stone; stones; cairns
  • "Stonefield" (Callanish XII) - standing stone
  • "Sgeir Nan Each" (Callanish XIII) - stone setting
  • "Cnoc Sgeir Na h-Uidhe" (Callanish XIV W) - stone setting
  • "Cnoc Sgeir Na h-Uidhe" (Callanish XIV e) - stones
  • "Àirigh Mhaoldonuich" (Callanish XV) - standing stone
  • "Cliacabhadh" (Callanish XVI) - standing stone; stones
  • "Druim Na h-Aon Choich" (Callanish XVII) - standing stone (possible)
  • "Loch Crogach" (Callanish XVIII) - standing stone (possible)
  • "Buaile Chruaidh" (Callanish XIX) - standing stone (possible)
  • There are many other sites nearby; not all are now visible. There was, for instance, a timber circle 550 yards south at Loch Roag.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Callanish)


("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Callanish Stones)


  1. Armit 1998:61
  2. Armit, Ian (1996). The Archaeology of Skye and the Western Isles. Edinburgh University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0748606408. 
  3. Watson, Mike. "Essential releases: Jon Mark". AmbientMusicGuide. Mike Watson. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 

Armit, I. (1998). Scotland's Hidden History. Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-1400-3.