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  Yule - The Midwinter Festival

Standing stones at Yule

Yule Stone: 3d Graphic by Sigurd TowrieAn intriguing series of Yule traditions involved some of the islands' many standing stones. Remnants of these still survive, although most have been transplanted to New Year.

The most widespread of these beliefs involved certain standing stones which gained the power to move. These megaliths would usually walk to a nearby loch, where they dipped their heads into the water, or in some accounts, drink.

It was generally thought to be bad luck to see these walking stones, so locals would avoid the areas surrounding the stones until well after sunrise on New Year's Day.

For more on Orkney's roaming stones click here.

But although the walking stones were avoided, other traditions actually involves the stones in the celebration of the New Year.

In North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of Orkney's islands, New Year saw the locals travel to a solitary standing stone - known locally as the Stan Stane - where they would dance around the monolith to herald the New Year. This custom persists today.

At Orkney's best known group of megaliths - The Standing Stones of Stenness - an old historical account tells us that during the five days of New Year feasting, lovers would visit the Standing Stones.

There, the woman would kneel and pray "to the god Wodden" that she and her partner might keep the oaths they were about to swear.

The couple would then make their way to the Ring of Brodgar where the kneeling "ritual" was repeated by the man before their pact before the Odin Stone.

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