I’m intrigued by standing stone circles, they are fascinating things. Firstly I’m astounded by how long they’ve survived and that I can place my hand on an object put there by someone thousands of years ago. The engineering used to create these mysterious places is impressive, as often they are geometrically correct and aligned to astronomical events.
Then there’s the most captivating aspect to stone circles, why do they exist? What was their purpose? Are they burial sites, observatories for watching the stars, do they depict solar/lunar cycles, are they places for social rituals or symbolic of a different set of beliefs from our own? We may never know and that’s probably the most interesting (and frustrating!) characteristic of stone circles there is!
So when I heard that there is a stone circle only a couple of miles from our B&B in the city centre, I knew I was going to have to find it!
The first surprise was that not that many people seem to know about the Stoneyfield stone circle and the second was that it was nearly destroyed in the 1970’s!
Stoneyfield was a Neolithic and Bronze Age stone circle originally located just outside Inverness and unfortunately in the path of the new A9 road. It was partially destroyed and not for the first time, totally forgotten about. This unlucky megalith, thought to be a burial cairn was then earmarked for total destruction when the A9 was upgraded in the early 1970’s.
In stepped Derek Simpson, a prehistorian who excavated, dismantled and properly researched the standing stones to discover evidence of a large roofed building and burial cists (chests). Thankfully the importance of this monument was recognised and a new location was found for the stone circle with the assistance of Bill Jack, the Council Planning Officer at the time.
And this is the bit of the history of the stone circle that I like the most… moving the stones was undertaken by the people of Inverness! During the winter of 1974-75, over 13 Saturday mornings, every single stone was moved to the new site and rebuilt, in exactly the configuration noted by Fraser in 1884. What an amazing community effort!
The monument was renamed the Raigmore Cairn and although it was now closer to the community itself, it was forgotten about once more. In the 1990’s the stones were overgrown with weeds, there was no information to explain their history and the stones themselves were covered in graffiti.
The second saviour of the stone circle was the Adopt A Monument scheme, run by Archaeology Scotland. Once again the community came together to resurrect the stones! The scheme allowed for local people to develop new skills in conservation and archaeological fieldwork and most importantly to preserve and promote the heritage of the stone circle.
Local schools, groups and Archaeology Scotland worked to restore the stones: further research on their history resulted in an information panel being installed at the site, better access to the stones via footpaths and a programmed maintenance schedule were all put in place.
I went to look for myself. I jumped in the car and in less than 5 minutes I was parked and walking toward the stones.
Although definitely a stone circle, it’s not the most impressive I’ve ever seen. They are in the most unusual place you’d expect ancient stones to be, in the middle of a housing estate and on the edge of an industrial zone! But the story behind these stones makes them truly unique! People have saved these stones, twice! Some might argue that as they’ve been partially destroyed, excavated and moved that they’ve lost their authenticity or purpose. I think it’s just the opposite. They have a new function now – they connect us on a daily basis to our past but are very much part of our present too.
This stone circle has been adopted by the community. You’d expect such an ancient monument to be roped off, preserved and not for public access. But these stones are part of the everyday landscape. People walk past them several times a day, children play on them, office workers sit and eat their lunch in the middle of them and dogs even cock a leg on them! You know, it feels like that’s exactly where they should be.