The great recumbent stones in Scotland’s stone circles

Early stone circles and standing stones are common in north-east Scotland but this area is the only one in Britain where you’ll find the massive recumbent stones.

It has been suggested that the numerous stone circles found in northeast Scotland may be derived from Clava cairns of Inverness. However, the recumbent stone circle is distinctively from the Aberdeen area.

The busiest area for recumbent stone circles is east of Insch and around the Bennachie/Correen/Alford area.

It is thought that the recumbent stone circles were constructed no earlier than 1800 BC and no later than 1400BC.

There are similarities between the Inverness Clava rings and recumbent  stone circles around Aberdeen – both:

  • megalithic circles
  • graded height stones
  • ring cairns
  • cup marks
  • use of quartz
  • cremation remains

Not all circles or Clava rings feature all of the above.

A main difference between the two rings:

  • Clava tend to be in low lying sites while recumbent circles are generally on  prominent site with panoramic views.

Some think they were alters but as with everything connected with stone circles this is simply conjecture.

They are, however, magnificent.

Today I visited 3 stone circles.

Tomnaverie Stone Circle,Tarland, Aberdeenshire

Tomnaverie circle is in a spectacular setting but unusual for stone circles in the area it is not so very elevated because the land was lowered due to quarrying. This makes it an easy circle to visit and one of the most beautiful for it great views west towards Morven, Lochnagar and the Cairngorms.


Midmar Kirk

The Midmar Kirk circle is also very accessible. The recumbent and its flankers are very impressive in that it’s clear the stones were selected and worked to make them almost matching. The recumbent is big at 4.5m long with an estimated weight of 20 tons.


Old Keig, Aberdeenshire

Old Keig’s sillimanite gneiss recumbent is muckle. It is a magnificent example of the effort put into moving these stones far up hills to the designated spot. 16 feet X 6 feet 9 inches X 6 feet 6 inches thick, around 53 tons in weight and calculated to be around 610 cubic feet, it is thought to be the largest of recumbents. The recumbent has a very noticeable nose at one end, for maneuvering the stone to get it level.

The bases of some stones in circles were cut into keel shapes to allow them to bed into the ground more easily, as at Old Keig.

The fabulous site with its broad panorama across the Don valley probably meant the stone would have been manhandled on rollers for the final half mile up the steep incline 1:14 of its 6 mile journey. Burl*  suggests 180 people would have been involved – 150 required to drag it on its rollers and the rest to keep moving the rollers (tree trunks presumably) uphill. And speculates that more than one community may have been involved in the transfer of stone form quarry to erection site.

The circle is not complete and access is very poor, unfortunately.

*HAW Burl: The Recumbent Stone Circles of Northeast Scotland

2 Comments to “The great recumbent stones in Scotland’s stone circles”

  1. Thanks Dave. It’s taken me a while to realise how brilliant these places are. I’ve lived here surrounded by them for as long then got into my head to visit a couple and read about them and was hooked. Not many are really accessible unfortunately but some farmers/landowners are pretty good about access and leave big areas uncultivated around those in their fields.

    I’ve a backlog of others waiting to go up.

  2. Great set of photos on stones and circles.

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