Visiting Scotland: Standing stones, neolithic history and whisky
While Scotland has no shortage of modern sites and activities – such as golf courses, whisky distilleries and hiking – no visit to Scotland is complete without a thorough exploration of Scotland’s neolithic pasts. Scotland is a goldmine for ancient history enthusiasts, with a landscape dotted with unique neolithic monuments and ruins.
Explore Scotland’s ancient history on a tour
Scotland’s ancient history is both cultural and geological. See grand monuments constructed for religious or military purposes, or remnants of daily life such as stone cottages that are thousands of years old. Scotland is also home some of the world’s oldest rocks!
If you have an interest in history and natural beauty, there are few better places to take a tour. Need convincing? This recent photo essay in The Guardian provides a stunning and comprehensive look at standing stones and neolithic history in the Outer Hebrides, travelling to west to the Isle of Lewis, via Calanais and Uig.
For mature travellers Odyssey has a wide range of tour packages available for exploring Scotland. These small group tours include a ancient history tour dedicated to prehistoric Britain and standing stones! Odyssey tours for exploring Scotland include:
- The small group tour of prehistoric Britain is a 21 day tour during which you’ll visit the famous stone rings in Okrney as well as the standing stones in the Outer Hebrides.
- Odyssey offers a 19-day Scottish history tour that focuses on the Jacobites that takes place in August. Across eight locations, from Edinburgh to Glasgow, you will witness where various significant battles and events took place. This includes a number of visits to castles and museums (including Edinburgh Castle, the castle featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!).
- If you’re keen to discover more about the island’s recent history and industry, try Britain’s History through Canals and Railways tour. This tour examines Britain through the lens of the industrial revolution, and includes scenic rail journeys and visits to bridges, viaducts and aqueducts.
- To discover the most fascinating corners of The Scottish Islands, try our 20-day Scottish Isles small group tour. This tour package journeys around Scotland. We begin in Glasgow, before moving on to the islands of the Atlantic Ocean – the Isle of Arran and the Inner and Outer Hebrides (including the Isle of Mull, Isle of Skye, and Lewis and Harris). We then move to the islands of the North Sea: the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands, before ending our trip in Edinburgh.
- If you prefer living plants to dead stones, our Small Group Tour of British Gardens might be for you. While this tour mostly focuses on England, the first three days of the tour are spent in Edinburgh, where we see the Royal Botanic gardens, Dirleton Castle and gardens, Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat.
Scotland’s Standing Stones
It is believed that Standing Stones were used for religious purposes, and began to be erected when settlers first came to Scotland approximately 10,000 years ago.
The largest stone circle in mainland Scotland is The 12 Apostles near Dumfries. Despite its name, if you visit you’ll find only 11 stones, one having been removed sometime between 1791 and 1837. It is not known how the 12th stone disappeared. The tallest of the stones is nearly 2 metres in height. Nearby, you can find two cursuses. Cursuses dot the British Isles, and many were built between 3400 and 3000 BC.
These monuments are particularly astonishing because some of the stones way more than 10 tonnes, meaning that transporting them, many thousands of years ago, was a significant project.
Often standing stones are constructed to correspond to light at a particular time of the year. For instance, a stone tomb on Orkney named Maes Howe has an entrance passageway that is designed to be receive the sun on the winter solstice, lighting up the main chamber.
Researchers have found that the stones are often located at the point in a landscape from which you can view the most extreme rising and setting points of the moon and sun. There is also evidence that these were often sites of burials and cremations. Some even suggest that the standing stones became symbolic of a tribe’s dead.