The Ness of Brodgar

The south-eastern end of the Ness of Brodgar. (Jim Richardson)
The south-eastern end of the Ness of Brodgar. (Jim Richardson)

The Ness of Brodgar is the name of the thin strip of land, in the West Mainland of Orkney, that separates the lochs of Harray and Stenness.

Part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, the Ness is covered in, and surrounded by, archaeology and, until the beginning of the 21st century, was best-known as the location of the Ring of Brodgar.

Ness of Brodgar MapIn 2002, that changed. On the south-eastern end of the isthmus, excavation has revealed a massive complex of monumental Neolithic buildings along with associated “artwork”, pottery, bones and stone tools.

The dig site lies between the henge monuments of the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar and close to the Barnhouse Neolithic settlement.

Any visitor to the Ness will see why the peninsula was considered an ideal place to construct great ceremonial monuments. It lies in the centre of a massive natural “cauldron” formed by the hills of the surrounding landscape.

Today, the site is accentuated by the water of the lochs, but this was not always the case. In the Neolithic, the loch water levels were lower and the Ness surrounded by marshy wetlands. After the sea breached the landbridge at the nearby Brig o’ Waithe, it filled the Stenness loch basin with salt water and raised the level of the Harray loch. The water, however, only reached its current level around 1500BC — a millennium after the Ness complex had fallen out of use.

The Ness’s name highlights Orkney’s Norse heritage. Deriving from nes – headland; brúar – bridge and garðr – farm, it translates as the “headland of the bridge farm”.