Video: Maeshowe and the winter solstice


Today, Wednesday, December 21, is the winter solstice – a day intextricably linked to Maeshowe in Stenness.

With its south-westerly facing entrance, Maeshowe’s best known attribute is its orientation towards the setting sun around midwinter.

Five thousand years ago, as now, it may be that the solstice marked the passing of time – the death of the old year and the birth of the new one. In the dark depths of an Orkney winter today, the solstice remains a welcome indicator that the sun is returning.

The light of the setting sun striking the rear wall of Maeshowe's central chamber. (Historic Environment Scotland)

The light of the setting sun striking the rear wall of Maeshowe’s central chamber. (Historic Environment Scotland)

Although in Orkney the worst of winter often follows the solstice, it remains a comforting thought to know the days are lengthening again.

This video was originally broadcast in 2021. Presented by Word Heritage Site ranger Sandra Miller, it features Professor Colin Richards and Dr Ragnhild Ljosland of the UHI Archaeology Institute, Tom Muir and Alison Miller.

Maeshowe (Sigurd Towrie)

Wintry Maeshowe. (Sigurd Towrie)

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