Scotland isn’t short of wow-inducing historic sites, but even on an already rich roster of wonders Orkney’s family of Neolithic monuments are a cut above. There’s the chambered cairn of Maes Howe, the massive standing stones of Stenness, the Neolithic village at Skara Brae – and this, the world-famous Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle with a diameter of 104 metres located within a ditch, or henge, a whopping 136 metres across.

It was snapped by Herald photographer Jamie Simpson in September 2017, a mere heartbeat ago when you consider the site’s mind-numbing antiquity. Many have. If the best guesses of the historians and archaeologists are correct the Ring Of Brodgar was constructed between 2500BC and 2000BC, though it has never been properly excavated so an exact date is hard to pin down. Nor is the significance it held for the Neolithic people of the islands properly understood. Clearly it had some sort of ceremonial function, but it may also have been used for some kind of planetary observation. Or perhaps all that recommended it was the natural beauty of the site, which sits on an isthmus, the Ness of Brodgar, separating the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray. Along with the mystery and power of the place it’s the setting which strikes the visitor most forcefully today.

What isn’t in doubt is that the Ring of Brodgar ranks alongside the English sites of Stonehenge and Avebury as the finest extant examples of stone circles in Britain – though Brodgar is the only one of the three which is an almost perfect circle. Accordingly it was designated a scheduled monument in 1882, making it one of the first places in the UK to be given that protected heritage status.

The ring originally featured 60 stones, but today only around half that number remain. That’s an improvement on the situation in the mid-19th century, however, when there were only 13 erect stones, with 10 more fallen (or deliberately toppled) and 13 more in fragments. The smallest stone is a little over two metres high, the tallest a little under five.

What to read

If you can lay your hands on a copy of Descriptio Insularum Orchadiarum by the enigmatic Jo Ben – thought to be a man named John Bellenden who visited Orkney in the early 16th century for reasons unknown – then you can read the earliest written account of the site. If not, check out something with more lyricism and less Latin: George Mackay Brown’s 27 poem cycle Brodgar Poems, published in 1992.