by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action. All images © Chris Brooks.

The route back was quite hard going against the wind and now the rain had started again. In fact at times it was hitting my face so hard it felt like riding a motorbike in a hailstorm with the helmet visor open (trust me, not recommended). But as I rounded the hill both the rain and the wind died down a little and the ground levelled out. For some reason the walk back seemed shorter somehow; I am not sure why but I didn’t care as I was ready to get back in the car.
I decided to drive back to the cottage and change my clothes as my trousers had got soaked through. After a little food and a bit of a rest the weather improved a little (well it stopped raining anyway) and I drove out again.

I made my way along the A965 passing Maeshowe on my right then turning off onto the B9055. You can not help but take your eyes off the road as you realise the three huge stones on your right. There is a very large parking area to your right into which I pulled. For a moment I just sat and looked out of the window of my car realising even more now that I really was here at last.

To me the Standing Stones of Stenness are the icons of Orkney, and from my little house in Wiltshire I had always dreamt of seeing them. Now in front of me the dream had come true and I had arrived at the place that had grabbed my attention in so many books, websites and TV programmes. You may be amazed to know that I did not stay, this was really because I wanted to meet these stones alone and the field had a number of visitors at that moment.
A little way up, the road turns into a single track road as you drive passed the Watchstone on the left and then further still the fantastic Ring of Brodgar appears on a small hill to the left. Signs guide you into the purpose built car park. Along with the large but surprisingly lacking information board, an eye pleasing raised wooden path meanders its way over the watery marshland towards the great circle commanding the side of the hill in front of you. You have to negotiate the mainly quiet road that you have driven up and then, after the gate, a reinforced grass path takes you up the hill. By the gate there are a couple of parking spaces for those who need them but you still need to negotiate the grassy but gentle slope. Further up there was some erosion control taking place where one of the paths crosses the ring ditch.

Despite the grey clouds and cold breeze, this place really does grip you. I spent a good hour just walking around taking in the stones’ size, texture and shapes. The central area is covered in heather and the a few small signs request you stay off – which I was happy to do. There is no bank so it is technically not a henge but it is the third largest stone circle after Avebury and Stanton Drew.

The landscape in which this place stands is inspirational, even on such a miserable day. Both the nearby water and the distant surrounding hills give weight to the probable importance of this place. However it may be a surprise to know that when it was built it is thought that Stenness Loch was a watery marshland (similar to that which the wooden footpath crosses) and only became waterbound when the sea breached it over 1000 years after its construction. After a while I was joined by some of the people who were at Stenness so I took this opportunity to leave and head back there.

The stones stand proudly in a fenced off field, and you approach them through the normal kissing gate arrangement. Yes, the stones are big, massive in fact, and the two largest are shaped so that they seem to cut into the dark cloudy sky like knives. Just as in the car you can not help constantly looking up at the tops of the stones while you walk around. Their shape definitely leads your eyes up and you can’t help but notice how very thin they are compared to their height.

Fortunately it was becoming obvious also that the weather was improving. The dark rain filled clouds started to retreat like rivers of fog over the loch, with patches of blue appearing in-between. The sun was setting and the remaining high cloud had a pink hue to it. I scrabbled to put my wide angle lens on the camera in order to get this magnificent sky, and I snapped away getting as many shots as possible. Eventually it got dark and the crescent moon appeared above the stones. Again there was a level of serenity only disturbed by the odd passing car and now, as I watched and took in the atmosphere, I am sure the shape of these stones are significant and our ancient ancestors must have thought the same to have put them there. I could imagine a complete ring of stones pointing to the sky… maybe they pointed to object depending where you stood – I don’t know, but there must have been a reason for it.
It was a bit dark now and I drove over to the Watch Stone and parked in the nearby lay-by for a while. It was difficult to get a good shot without a powerful flash now but there was plenty of time to return and I will do so.