Isle of Lewis, Scotland
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I had not been at the site long when Margaret arrived. We had parted over 22 years ago, but, to my regret, she has never been prepared to communicate with me. Our last face to face conversation had been 14 years ago. However, I approached her and we had a brief friendly conversation, in which we wryly admitted to one another that we were ultimately responsible for all this interest in the moon at Callanish. A meeting which was a small ‘plus’ to me on this important night.
The research which we had carried out jointly between 1974 and 1984 had been largely directed towards discovering astronomical alignments at and between the various sites in the ‘Callanish Complex’ – up to 20 circles, rows and single stones in the vicinity. In 1980, at a major conference on archaeo-astronomy at Newcastle, we had announced our initial findings; they were published in the conference report (B.A.R. 88) the following year. Perhaps our most important finding concerned the relationship between the Sleeping Beauty, the angle of the avenue at Callanish and the extreme southerly path of the moon.
My Callanish Moonrise ‘blog’ -
11th-12th June 2006
Page 3 of 3
To quote relevant sections from our 1981 paper :
‘… at the southern extreme of the major standstill at this latitude, the moon traced a spectacular path through the southern sky. … (It) skimmed over the southern horizon for only about two hours between rise and set. …
As seen from the north end of the Callanish site, looking southwards towards the circle … the moon rose out of the ‘Sleeping Beauty’, skimmed the stones of the east row and set into the stones of the circle. To the right of the tall central megalith, the moon gleamed again within the bounds of the circle. …
Were the avenue lines set out deliberately to give a symbolic descent of the moon into the circle or central cairn? …. Perhaps (in prehistoric times) there were great occasions at the major standstill, with the supreme moment being the setting of the June full moon into the circle itself.’
Web-site created by Gerald Ponting using Serif WebPlus X2
Thus I had originally visualised this event, as a theoretical exercise, in 1980. I had not found it convenient to travel to Callanish in 1987, when Margaret and Ron produced stunning photographs of the event, one of which was used on the cover of Current Archaeology (April 1996 issue). So I had been determined to be at Callanish in June 2006, despite the strong risk of cloudy conditions hiding the event.
The night June 11th/12th had not disappointed, as the moonrise, with its unexpected ‘musical accompaniment’, was a magical and spine-tingling event. But I was not to be lucky enough to see the ‘supreme moment’ of the moon setting among the stones. The moon disappeared into cloud about halfway across its transit and did not appear again.
On the previous and succeeding nights, on either of which the moon skim would have occurred, although with the moon a little higher, there was complete cloud cover.
BELOW: The moon rising from the hills of the Sleeping Beauty, with East Loch Roag in the foreground, taken from Cnoc an Tursa, the hillock immediately south of the Callanish main site.
12.16 am Monday 12th June 2006.
Callanish : midnight silhouettes
Maybe I’ll go back for full moon in June 2007 (2nd or 30th) or maybe I’ll be around to try in 2025!
In the meantime, I’ve made a simulation. I’m no Photoshop expert, but the picture right shows approximately what we had all hoped to see. The stones were photographed at about 2.45 a.m., a little after the time the moon would have been in this position, and the moon is inserted from a shot taken earlier that night.
According to our theories, the ‘correct position’ for viewing this event is at the north end of the avenue. Not everyone there that evening seemed to be aware of this, and there was potential for the ‘supreme moment’ to have been ruined for those waiting at the north end. People wandered among the circle, even lit fires there or on Cnoc an Tursa. So could I make a final appeal to anyone who reads this, intending to travel to Callanish in future months. When the moon is due to set, the place to be, to see the best view and to avoid spoiling the view of others, is between stones numbers 8 and 19, at the north end of the avenue. Good luck with the Lewis weather !
PLEASE NOTE : this blog dates from June 2006 and I’ve chosen to leave it as written. I did not go back in June 2007 - and I would love to see any pictures of the moon among the stones taken by anyone who was there in September 2006 or June 2007.