The Callanish Standing Stones of Scotland

Aug 12, 2014 by

 The ancient Callanish Standing Stones of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland are among the most photographed megalithic monuments in the world.  Erected 4500-5000 years ago, the Callanish standing stones are laid out in a rough Celtic cross-shaped pattern, consisting of 13 large stones in a circle with lines of stones radiating from the circle to the east, west and south.  Two lines of stones form the approach from the north, ending in a large solitary monolith in the center of the circle. Its exact purpose is unknown, but most scholars think the Callanish standing stone circle represents an astronomical observatory based on lunar patterns. It was abandoned about 1000 years after it was built and left uncared for until 1885, when the stones came into the care of the Scottish government.




Callanish Standing Stones — Image: Jim Richardson


In Gaelic, the Callanish standing stones are called Tursachan Chalanais[Toor-sakh-khan Khalanish] or Calanais Stones. Scholars believe the name Tursachan is related to the Old Norse word Tursa, which meant giant, because the stones, especially the central ones, do tower over people.
Local Scottish tradition says that giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned into stones as a punishment.


A distant view of the Callanish standing stones: the circle, stone rows and part of the northern avenue. Image: Netvor

There are several smaller monuments near Callanish as well, including Cnoc Ceann a’Gharraidh, a circle of eight stones (three of them fallen), and Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag, a double circle with eight stones in the outer ring and four in the inner ring.  Whatever the purpose, the site was clearly important to its ancient builders, and the Callanish standing stone circle remains one of the most mysterious and magical places in Scotland.


Center stone in the Callanish circle, with the Northern Lights overhead. Image: Colin Cameron,


Historic Scotland

Callanish Visitor Centre

Sacred Sites


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The Ghosts of Duntulm Castle

Apr 20, 2014 by

Atop a rocky seaside cliff on the Trotternish peninsula of Skye sits the ruins of Duntulm Castle, former seat of the Clan MacDonald of Sleat.  It is thought that an Iron age broch or dun, known as Dun Dhaibhidh, perhaps used by Viking raiders along the coast, once stood on the site, but there is no conclusive evidence.   The castle was built in the 14th or 15th century, most likely by the MacLeod clan, but by the 17th century the area was in the control of the MacDonalds, led by Sir Donald MacDonald of Sleat, “Donald Gorm Og”, the 9th chief of the clan.   The MacDonalds maintained Duntulm until 1732, when Sir Alexander MacDonald built a new residence, Monkstadt House, about 5 miles away  and abandoned the castle.   Duntulm has lain in ruins ever since, an empty shell of its former self, and peopled only by the ghosts said to haunt the castle.

Locals say there are several ghosts at Duntulm, including the specter of Hugh MacDonald (a cousin of the laird, Donald Gorm) who was starved to death in the castle’s dungeon, allegedly for coveting the lands of the clan. The gruesome tale contends Hugh went mad from lack of food and water and tried to eat his own hands before he died. His screaming ghost now walks the castle, howling his pain to whoever can hear it.


Panoramic view from Duntulm Castle. Photo by John Lees

Panoramic view from Duntulm Castle. Photo by John Lees


Another ghost story says the castle is haunted by Donald Gorm, the laird who starved Hugh MacDonald; legend has it that Donald fights with the other ghosts, perhaps just to keep things lively in the spectral realm.



The saddest ghost story involves the nursemaid to the chieftain’s son, who apparently dropped the poor babe out of a castle window onto the rocks below, killing the child. The chieftain (the story isn’t clear as to which laird was the father) was so enraged, he had the nursemaid put into a small boat and set adrift in the cold Atlantic. This woman, along with another whose husband shunned her after she was disfigured, weep as they walk the former halls of Duntulm.

Local lore says it was the combined activities of all the restless ghosts that drove the MacDonald clan to abandon the castle forever in 1732. The clan laird did scavenge stones from the castle to build the new home, an admirable bit of recycling, but one that might give Duntulm’s lively spirits a free ride to the new place. Personally, if I had to flee my home because it was so haunted, I don’t think I’d take ANY of the stones with me, no matter how much money or time it saved.

Night falls on Duntulm Castle

Night falls on Duntulm Castle Photo by Bruce Stokes


Duntulm, perched high atop  basalt cliffs beside the turbulent waves of the Atlantic,  is almost constantly buffeted by strong winds. It could be that all those spooky sounds are merely wind whistling through the stones of the castle. This is Scotland, however, a land filled with myth, mystery and the lasting echoes of its own turbulent and deadly history.   Who can say for sure that the sad, mad and angry spirits of Duntulm aren’t still walking the ruins of their former lives?



Duntulm Site Record, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

Duntulm castle, by David Ross, Britain Express

Duntulm Castle, Wikipedia

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