Calanais

Talking of the coast, when I was about ten years old, my brother gave me T. H. White’s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legends, ‘ The Once and Future King’.

I loved this book, reading it over and over again; I still own a copy. At one point in the story Merlin mentions a stone circle which he describes as being on the edge of the world. After much research on my part I learned of a stone circle in Calanais, in the Outer Hebrides, and I decided that this must be the site in the book. To this day though I do not know if this is the circle referenced by the author.


Once I had placed it to my own satisfaction, I dreamed of going to see these stones for myself. I have always had a love affair with the North West of Scotland and the romance of this place, the previous existence of which I had been completely unaware, delighted me. Eventually when I was around thirty years old, my younger sister booked a holiday cottage in the village of Calanais for a week at Midsummer so that she and I could go and visit this mythical place. To say that I was excited would be an understatement.

It was a two day journey each way by public transport but none the worse for that as the trains were far more comfortable in those days, and the route was beautiful.

When we finally got onto the island and into our cottage it was about four pm and my sister wanted us to go to the stones immediately; she must have been disappointed with my reaction to this suggestion which I did not understand myself. Certainly we needed to stretch our legs and the afternoon sunshine was very inviting. For some reason though I had a curious reluctance and managed to convince myself, if not my sister, that it would be more meaningful if we waited until the next day which was Midsummer Eve.

The following morning we got up and after some prevarication on my part, we set off for the stone circle. As we got closer I started to feel really bad but had no idea why. My sister went running up to the stones hugging them all individually like friends and I can remember hovering around on the grass outside the circle. When Christa asked me why I did not join in, I told her I did not like it there.

I felt bad as she had spent a lot of money for us to take this trip, wanting for me to fulfil a dream, but still I made some excuse and went back to the cottage leaving her to commune with the stones.

A lot of years later while discussing that visit, Christa told me that I had said, ‘The stones don’t want me here.’

I do not remember saying this, but what I do recall vividly is that they smelled to me of blood, and that they looked like sharp, bloody stone fangs, grinning at me there on the edge of the world.

I never went back preferring to spend my time looking unsuccessfully for wild otters and enjoying the bog plants next to the roadside which cut through the wet moorland. The butterworts, cottongrasses and orchids all delighted me, being very different from the plants in my local area. Of course I also had the Machair and the gorgeous white Atlantic sands to explore.

I remember the weather, waking to a day which grew steadily hotter until sometime mid afternoon when the heat and the pressure would become intolerable. At this point a thunderstorm, black and violent, would drench the earth before leaving behind a clean watery sunlight kissing the land. My sister whose interests were different to mine, told me that she had found other monolithic structures I might wish to explore but I was completely uninterested; I was probably afraid although truthfully I do not remember.

While I have never forgotten this experience, it happened so long ago that I decided at some point that I was colouring it more darkly in my memory than it actually was at the time. It is currently the end of March 2021, probably thirty years later, Two nights ago I was browsing the internet aimlessly when a small advertising video from the Scottish Tourist Board started to play at the top of the screen on my phone.

It cannot have been longer than five or ten seconds; it caught my eye but I was not really taking any notice. The film was taken in the dark and as the camera panned over some standing stones from above, before I had even recognised Calanais consciously, I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach and I very nearly threw up; it really was that visceral. I am actually sitting here trembling and my heart is racing as I write, just at the thought of the view of the shadowed inner circle which I did not see in real life. I had to get up and go outside to catch my breath.

When I came back in I told myself that I was being stupid, and thought that if I was to watch the video again, deliberately this time so that it did not catch me unaware, then I would perhaps see what had bothered me.

No. No. No.

The shadows and the stones came onto my screen and I had to turn away and click off from the video immediately.

Until this advertisement popped onto my screen I had mostly forgotten about that long ago trip, and although occasionally I would ask online friends who had visited Lewis and Calanais what did they think, I have never spoken to anybody who has been there who says anything other than how lovely and peaceful it is.

I enjoy visiting stone circles and have been to many. Two reasonably local ones have the tranquil vibes that my hippy friends tell me that they have found in Calanais.

To me though, that awful sentinel standing on the Atlantic coastline at the edge of the world, that first footfall after three thousand dangerous miles, is no safe haven for the unwary traveller, but a blood soaked maw that is ready to open in a horrific welcome.

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One thought on “Calanais

  1. Jenn says:

    it is so counter intuitive, when our society always insists we must “be happy” (wtf does that mean by the way ?) We also are taught intellectually that “Nature” is red in tooth and claw, because it is about the physical survival of the “fit-est” – and conflictingly, that not only does cream rise to the top, but also scum ……….. to be smily and happy and joyful – but isn’t that a little unrealistic ? can you have light without dark? We can visit sites all over the planet where human beings have made ceremonial places, for what ? sacrifice ? altars are only going to be 50% love and life – possibly the other 50% are where the fear and death happens – which is all part of the cycle ………………. very insightful piece of writing I believe, thankyou for sharing, impeccable stuff 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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