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  Orkney's Standing Stones

The Barnhouse Stone, Stenness

Barnhouse Stone (Picture S Towrie)

The Barnhouse Stone is a solitary monolith, approximately half a mile (700m) to the south-east of the Stones of Stenness.

Standing in a field near Maeshowe, the Barnhouse Stone is clearly visible from the main Kirkwall to Stromness road.

On first glance, the lichen-covered stone looks fairly insignificant - especially when compared to the Stenness giants a short distance away, to the north-west.

Appearances, however, can be deceptive.

The Barnhouse Stone is intriguing because it appears to be perfectly aligned to the entrance of the Maeshowe chambered cairn, approximately 700 metres to the north-east.

Local man Magnus Spence first recorded this alignment in 1893.

Picture: Sigurd TowrieSpence also remarked that the Barnhouse Stone and Watchstone formed a straight line with the centre of the Brodgar ring, in a north-easterly, south-westerly direction.

This line, he suggested, pointed to the position of the setting sun at Beltane - May 1.

While the Beltane link is open to question, a definite alignment exists between the Barnhouse Stone and Maeshowe.

Standing just over three metres tall (10 ft), around the midwinter solstice, whenthe last rays of the setting sun shine through Maeshowe's entrance, the sun is directly over the top of the Barnhouse monolith.

The centre axis of Maeshowe's inner entrance passage is directly aligned with the centre of the Barnhouse Stone.

From Maeshowe, the line travels out to strike Hoy's Ward Hill at a place where the sun sets 22 days before and after the midwinter solstice.

Whether this alignment meant that the stone was put in place at the same time Maeshowe was built or was a later addition, erected to mark the alignment, is not clear.