Ring of Buikan

Ring of Buikan

Last week we went back up to see the Ring of Bookan – one of Orkney’s most mysterious neolithic monuments. It isn’t signposted but it is easy to find on the Ring of Brodgar/Standing Stones of Stenness road. It’s about a mile past the Ring of Brodgar heading north and west and is on the left hand side in a field just at the top of the rise and directly opposite the largest house in the area which is also called Bookan. Access is easy: there is a lay-by about 20 metres before the house and there are gates that lead into the field.

It is easily the largest and most impressive of the unexcavated neolithic monuments on Mainland Orkney. The mound is very prominent and surrounding ditch is huge, both wide and deep. The perspective from the top of the grassy hillock is commanding. There are very good views of the lochs of Stenness and Harray with views of all the surrounding hills and the immediate setting is intriguing: there is a large mound to the south of Bookan and aerial views show a very interesting large circular field mark to the north of the monument.

What makes it mysterious is that no one has ever established just what it is. The name and earlier supposition has it as a henge with associated ditch, but recent thoughts are suggesting chambered tomb. Certainly the massiveness of the mound speaks Chambered Tomb, but the very large ditch seems to say Henge…

Of course all this uncertainty is sharply spiced by the revelations of The Ness of Brodgar which is less than two kilometres away. It seems impossible that the Ring of Bookan, the Ring of Brodgar, the Ness of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness are not all linked in this remarkable Neolithic landscape. Standing on the mound of the Ring of Bookan these other monuments are almost within sight. There are brecks – broken, rough land, no good for farming (from the Norse brekka) – that lie below Bookan, and they just obscure a line of sight with the Brodgar complex.

Standing at the Ring of Bookan on a hazy spring day with an easterly wind biting, it is not difficult to imagine all these structures being linked in the same ritual landscape. Maybe this year the continuing excavations at the Ness of Brodgar will take time to explore the Ring of Bookan and its secrets.