Saturday, September 21, 2013

Machrie Moor stone circles

Machrie Moor stone circle
Machrie Moor at its atmospheric best.
The best attraction on the Isle of Arran is the Machrie Moor stone circles. Located on the southwestern edge of the island, these Bronze Age (circa 1800 to 1600 B.C.) stone circles are reached after a mile and a half long hike from the island's coastal road.

Path to the Machrie Moor stone circles
The start of the path to the stone circles. Sheep roam freely along most of the path.
The first place of interest you come to, about half a mile before reaching the stone circles, is an old burial mound marked by some small stones. This cairn — over the millennia, the stones have been covered by soil and grass is approximately 4,000 years old. Strangely, no one has ever excavated the mound to see who or what is inside.

Excavating this cairn seems like a good project for a doctoral thesis.
The creation of the stone circles predates the cairn by around 500 years; excavations around the circles have revealed at least two timber circles from around 2,500 B.C. Stone replaced timber in the circles sometime between 1,800 and 1,600 B.C.

The first stone circle you reach is a double stone ring called Fingal's Cauldron Seat. According to myth, a giant named Fingal cooked a meal within the inner ring. As he cooked, he tethered his dog, Bran, to one of the stones in the outer circle.

Fingal's Cauldron Seat; double stone ring
The inner ring of large stones is an almost perfect circle, while the outer ring is more of an egg-shape.
Double stone circle
Reverse view of the double circle.
Mattie reenacting the tethering of Fingal's dog
My rather less-than-ferocious dog, Mattie, reenacting the tethering of Fingal's dog.
Adjacent to Fingal's Cauldron is the ruins of an old farm. It's a reminder that, until quite recently, people did not have the same reverence we have for ancient sites and structures, frequently plundering them for building materials or destroying them in religious exhibitionism.

The occupants of "Moss Farm" had fine views of all six stone circles.
From Fingal's Cauldron, you're lured to the striking sight of three tall standing stones. This is by far the most impressive of the circles. The stones are more than 15 feet tall (the tallest is just over 18 feet tall), and the full circle was approximately 50 feet wide. All that remains of the full circle are the three tall stones and two small nubbins.

Three standing stones at Machrie Moor
Impressive to us in the 21st century, these stone circles at Machrie Moor must have inspired awe thousands of years ago.
Moss growing on the standing stone
What would the stone look like if folks hadn't wiped away the moss from the bottom half?

Dog photobomb
Mattie photobombs.
Millstone from one of the standing stones
After spending thousands of years as part of the stone circle, some 19th century bozo decided to make a millstone out of this rock . . . but then abandoned it in place.
One of the stone circles has only one standing stone left in place. The other stones of the circle have fallen and been buried in the peat, or seized by later generations for building.

Solitary sentinel stone at Machrie Moor
A solitary sentinel at Machrie Moor.
Due to the isolated location on the Isle of Arran, as well as the 3 mile roundtrip hike needed to see it, the Machrie Moor stone circles are far less touristy than other stone circles in the U.K. We found it to be appropriately atmospheric, in contrast with Stonehenge's location next to a highway, and Avebury which literally has a road and buildings within the massive site. Stone circles were intended to inspire reflection and awe in the visitors; it's impossible to achieve such a feeling with hordes of tourists jabbering or cars whizzing by.

Communing with the old gods at Machrie Moor
Kate communes with the old gods in one of the stone circles at Machrie Moor.
If you want to properly experience a prehistoric site, you have to do so without big crowds and away from modern trappings. We had Machrie Moor all to ourselves. The rain and overcast skies enhanced our experience. We could feel the bouncy peat underfoot, smell the wet earth, and ponder the big questions that the builders must have been asking.

Our visit to Machrie Moor was the highlight of the trip to the Isle of Arran.

Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran 

For more on the Isle of Arran:

You might also like the Isle of Bute:

View from the ruins of St. Blane's Church on the Isle of Bute 


Part I:

Town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute


Part II:

No comments:

Post a Comment