It’s a feature of living in these parts, where the local tourism board’s motto is, apparently, ‘shh, nobody knows we’re here’, that every so often you will discover – usually quite by chance – that there’s some feature or site that in a normal place would have at the very least a brown sign from the nearest road (if not a gift shop, tea room, opening hours and, if you’re really unlucky, a Twitter acccount), will here just sit unremarked in the corner of a field. We already run bike rides to a number of these hidden attractions, including Bigtown’s nearby stone circle – allegedly the largest* in mainland Scotland – so I thought I was reasonably on top of the local antiquities.
But then someone mentioned in passing that Bigtown has a second stone circle which I’d never heard of in my 12+ years of living here, and I just had to go and check it out. So yesterday evening, with the heat wave continuing, I and a fellow cyclist, who is generally up for a bike ride even if it means a possible wild goose chase, set out to see what we could see.
Naturally, although marked on the map, the stone circle is almost completely unheralded on the ground. We knew that there was a path from the church, which is signposted from the road, and once you’ve ridden up the steep track to find the church, itself tucked away in a pretty hollow in the hills, a sign does point you towards the ‘7 Grey Stanes’ stone circle.
The path itself was somewhat notional, and after passing through a couple of gates, we lost our bearings for a while. Having made the mistake of following our instincts (and also leaving both Internet connected phone and Ordnance Survey map with our bikes, which we’d parked by the church) our attempt to find the stone circle through the medium of heading for the sort of spot where we thought people might want to build a stone circle was not particularly effective (although we were rewarded with some incredible views).
Fortunately it was a nice evening to be wandering around on a hilltop squinting at various stones (and a few very convincingly stone-like cow pats) to see if, from a certain angle, it could be argued that this might be a stone circle, but failing to persuade even ourselves.
Eventually, having admitted defeat and retreated to the path, we found a gate that led us to a more convincing path and finally round a corner to what was undoubtedly a stone circle, albeit a rather small one – and what was, in all senses of the word, a magical spot.
The views here were also stunning.
The weather undoubtedly helped, but even on a dreich day I can imagine that this site, in its little hollow in a hillside with its commanding views, would be well worth a visit.
Selfishly, I suppose that it’s nice to live in a place with a stone circle so unvisited that the path to reach it has all but disappeared. And to be able to have it to ourselves (and without so much as a sign, let alone an interpretation board, to tell us what we’re seeing). But I do wonder sometimes if we could make a little more of our local attractions to encourage a few more visitors to the region … if only there was a way of ensuring that they only came by bike.
* as in, largest diameter. Ring of Brodgar or Stonehenge this is not. But still …