Midmar Kirk Recumbent Stone Circle
We visited Midmar Kirk recumbent stone circle on Sunday 18 June 2017, during a recent research visit to Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The afternoon sky was leaden, but as chance would have it, rain held off during our short visit. First impressions of this uniquely distinctive site in a rural setting were strongly influenced by its location in the grounds of Echt and Midmar parish church, along with a setting amongst recent gravestones.
The web pages for the parish church here indicate:
- Midmar Church was built in 1787 under the ministry of Rev. John Ogilvie. It was deliberately built close to the circle — we can’t be sure why, other than that we know that the Rev. Ogilvie was interested in the monument that was believed to be a Druid religious structure. The circle has now been incorporated into the landscaped grounds of the graveyard.
- It probably dates from the Bronze Age, is estimated to be over 4,000 years old, and is one of the most well-preserved recumbent circles in the northeast of Scotland.
- The exact purpose of stone circles is uncertain, but it has become generally accepted that they were to do with astronomy and marking the passage of time and the seasons. The alignment of the stones and the shade and light between them denoted the movement of the sun and the moon and the determination of the summer and winter solstices. This knowledge would have been of value to those who needed to know the best time to plant crops.
- The stone circle has a diameter of around 17.0 metres. The long recumbent stone measures 4.5 metres and weighs between 10 and 20 tons — as heavy as 2 buses!
- It has some interesting, possibly quite old engravings and some Masonic symbols carved on the top surface. The pointed flankers on either side are 2.5 metres tall, and stand along with another five stones to make up the circle. It is believed that one or (perhaps) two stones may be missing from its west arc. Local lore tells that one of the stones from the circle was re-used in the construction of the church, but there is no evidence for this.
The onsite information board states: ‘The circle was tidied up when the graveyard was laid out in 1914. At this time, presumably, at least one stone was re-erected: that standing on the NNE of the circle, since its size does not follow the normal grading down from the flankers. Moreover, the recumbent and its easterly flanker are not exactly on the line of the circle as it is now laid out. The tidying up seems also to have removed traces of a later burial cairn.’
Below: The recumbent stone with its flanking stones, photographed from inside the stone circle. The two flanking stones, each approximately 2.5 metres high, appear to have been matched and shaped into what have been variously described as canine teeth or horns. This region of northeastern Scotland is rich in farmlands, so perhaps the early prehistoric farmers who erected these stones viewed them as cattle horns. The onsite information board indicates that the recumbent is 4.5 metres long and weighs 20 tons.
The onsite information board adds, ‘The size and weight of the recumbent show the skill and determination of the circle builders in handling large blocks of stone. They had, after all, no cranes, lorries or made up roads to help them. This testimony to their skill is reinforced by how they have ensured the upper surface of the recumbent is level. They had to use chocking stones, particularly at the westerly end to achieve this.’
Below: The recumbent stone and its flanking stones photographed from outside the stone circle. The chocking stones can be seen here.
Aberdeenshire council’s record of the site confirms the stone circle also has the alternative name of Christchurch and is here.
Below: Echt and Midmar parish church, the grounds of which Midmar Kirk recumbent stone circle stands in:
Descriptions of visits to this site can be found here on The Modern Antiquarian.
Unfortunately, our brief visit did not include time to visit the Balblair standing stone approximately 100 metres northwest of the stone circle in a small wood besides the road, described here on The Megalithic Portal.
Below: Terence Meaden, my travelling companion, contemplating the enigmatic mysteries of Midmar Kirk recumbent stone circle.