Moving among the monuments

Unstan approachMoving among the monuments.

Passage directed, guided


And ordered

Entrance guarded

As with knowledge.

Maes Howe entranceAn ordered landscape

In past as in present

Feet directed

To the important places

Gaze averted

From the spaces in-between.

OrkneyAncient and modern


Touching the past

But separated still

‘Stand back’ ‘Don’t go there’

‘Ancient monument that way’.

SignApproaching sacred space

On pilgrimage paths well trod

To stand

To gaze

To move among the monuments

And then to depart.

Ring of Brodgar distant view


All images were taken during two visits to the Orkney Islands last summer. For more information about Orkney itself and its amazing archaeology see or

The archaeology on Orkney is truly amazing, but as I walked around the monuments last summer my thoughts turned to the control and directionality exercised by the way in which the monuments are set out and fenced in. My experience was very much directed and often the fences invaded upon the senses, creating an extra sense of monumentality, heightening the approach and anticipation as we neared a monument. And around and within those monuments, movement was often also strictly controlled. Such control, though, may not be just a modern phenomenon, and it is probable that movement between, around and within the monuments on Orkney (and elsewhere) during prehistory was also directed and constrained.

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5 Responses to Moving among the monuments

  1. Thought provoking observations on the constraint of movement around these sites. Although personally I find it quite frustrating to be corralled into a narrow fenced avenue when visiting the site in such an wide open landscape, with guide and limited time within the monument. But perhaps that is how “ordinary” people felt about these places when they were first constructed/used; I particularly like the “apparent” continuity over the millenia of how we interpret that these places should be “used” and how they may have been used. What goes around, comes around?

    • kirstymill says:

      I do agree with you about the frustrations of being confined by narrow fences etc. at these site! I guess my reflections here were less on whether I liked this effect (or if it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for the experience of the monuments), but the way in which the modern fences almost created another layer of monumentality and of experience at these sites, in a sense echoing the narrow entrances and constrained and directed approaches to monuments such as Maes Howe etc. Somehow I suspect this is entirely unintended, but it’s certainly interesting to think about and ponder!

  2. Reblogged this on mountains of meaning and commented:
    Thought provoking observations here

  3. Finola says:

    Interesting comment. Do you mean directed and constrained by more than just the landscape? Marked routeways, for example?

    • kirstymill says:

      Yes, I think that’s certainly possible. Access to the monuments themselves were certainly directed and constrained, and the possibility of routeways through the ceremonial monuments within the heart of Neolithic Orkney has certainly been considered. The very construction of a monument, whether it is a chambered tomb or a stone circle, alters the way in which people move around and interact with that place. Less of an issue on Orkney, but once we begin considering the ceremonial monuments in large areas of mainland Scotland, we know these were largey wooded landscapes during the Neolithic and so at the very least paths and routeways through the trees and vegetation here will undoubedly have directed movement. My feeling is that movement may not have been entirely unrestricted even in largely treeless landscapes and when we begin thinking about ceremonial monuments, there may well have been ‘right’ and ‘proper’ ways to approach and interact with them.

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