The Tailor-Made Top 21 Must See Stone Circles in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Updated: Sep 20



I’m sure everyone has heard of and maybe visited Stonehenge or perhaps you are an Outlander fan and fantasise over the mythical Craigh na Dun stone circle? But were you aware that the North East of Scotland can boast not only of its own stone circles, but also of almost 100 ‘Recumbent Stone Circles’? The North East of Scotland, along with the south-west of Ireland, is the only place in the world that you can visit this type of prehistoric site!


So, I hear you ask, what is a ‘Recumbent Stone Circle’? Well, the circles are made up of a number of standing stones, plus a large horizontal (or “recumbent”) stone which has an upright flanking stone at either side of it.

Aquhorthies Stone Circle
Aquhorthies Stone Circle

The stone circles of Aberdeenshire were erected around 4,000 years ago, making them a similar age to Stonehenge and the great Pyramids of Giza. There is still a lot of mystery around what these circles were used for, but the alignment of these stones probably helped prehistoric farming communities to follow the changing seasons. The flanking stones would have framed the rising and setting moon at midsummer.



This blog will rate our stone circle visits over the past four years around Aberdeenshire, and the list will include both ‘Recumbent’ and standard stone circles, with some references to other ancient sites in the North East that can be visited. The technical descriptions of the circles used were mainly taken from the Canmore website.


Not only are all stone circles in the North East of Scotland free to visit and open to the public at all times, but you will probably have them all to yourself when you visit. Perfect for these socially distant times!


Old Keig Stone Circle
Old Keig Stone Circle

Don’t forget that at Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these stone circles appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the stone circles of Aberdeenshire, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland.


It is difficult to create a list of the must-see stone circles and is sure to be a little controversial with some, but here are our top twenty-one.


21 - 16. Cairnwell, Glassel, Dunideer, Old Bourtreebush, Loanhead of Daviot, and Whitehill


The Cairnwell Ring Cairn and its surrounding circle were fully moved 175 yards NW to accommodate the Badentoy industrial site in 1995, and can now be found in the middle of the estate.


The remains of Glassel Stone Circle are located in woodland near Banchory. An oval setting of five granite pillars that range in height from 0.8 4m - 0.99 m. The circle isn’t well signposted, so park at Glassel village hall and follow Google Maps.


Only the recumbent and two re-erected flankers of Dunnideer Stone Circle can be seen nowadays. The recumbent is a relatively thin slab measuring 2.85m in length by 1.9m in height. The stones lay at the foot of the Hill of Dunnideer, to the north west of the castle in a group of trees.


Old Bourtreebush Stone Circle encloses a cairn and is situated 240m west of Old Bourtreebush farmhouse, near Portlethen. The circle measures about 26m in diameter and has been reduced to an arc of five stones. It is thought that there would have originally been up to 15 standing stones. Note that the circle can only be accessed through farmer’s fields.


The Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle is much more than just a stone circle. It is a complex monument used for funerary activity and rituals or ceremonies over a long period of time, from the Neolithic period and throughout the Bronze Age. The recumbent stone circle is the main feature, but it surrounds a ring cairn, and adjacent are the remains of an enclosed cremation cemetery.


Whitehill Recumbent Stone Circle stands in a clearing in an area of woodland near the Tillyfourie Quarry. The stone circle measures 20m in diameter, within which is a well-defined ring cairn of 17m in diameter. There are good car parking facilities near the start of the forest walks and it’s great to combine a trip to the circle with the lovely forest and quarry walks.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Stone circles are often located within farmer’s fields. The public does have access to these fields in Scotland, so long as you only walk on unsown ground or along the tractor tramlines, making sure not to damage any crops.



15. Cullerlie


Cullerlie Stone Circle’s eight stones surround an area which was likely used for cremation. Eight small ring cairns within the stone circle were probably built later. Cullerlie is remarkable for its setting at the bottom of a valley. Most prehistoric stone monuments were built on higher ground, and the reason for Cullerlie’s unusual location is a mystery.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: There is a small area for parking at the entrance gate to the circle, and Cullerlie is probably the most accessible circle to visit in this list.




14. Loudon Wood


The remains of the Loudon Wood Stone Circle, consists of four stones, including recumbent and its western flanker still standing in situ. The three other stones have fallen. The stones are off the main walking path and there is no signage. They are marked accurately on Google Maps, so approach along the main path from the south, looking for a small gap in the trees where you will find a rough path to the circle.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: While walking through the woods, look out for the Drinnie’s Wood Observatory.


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13. Nine Stanes of Mulloch


The Nine Stanes of Mulloch stand in a clearing in an area of woodland. The stone circle surrounds a ring cairn, and comprise 6 erect stones, the recumbent and 2 flankers (hence the name "Nine Stanes" or "stones"). Unusually, the recumbent and flankers are set on the edge of the inner cairn, while the remaining standing stones sit in an oval outer arc. It is thought that this circle was built late in the sequence of Recumbent Stone Circles.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: There is a gated access road for the forestry commission where there is room to park one or two cars without blocking the gate. The circle is then just a two-minute walk from there.



12. Craighead Badentoy


The Craighead Badentoy Stone Circle is situated in a paddock on the summit of School Hill, near the top of the Portlethen Golf Course. It consists of four stones set out at the corners of a rhombus roughly 6m square, tightly confined within a drystone-walled roundel measuring 12m in diameter. There are access points through this wall and the outer wall that surrounds the field.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Horses sometimes use the field surrounding the circle, but we have been told that they are friendly and enjoy a carrot or two if you have some!


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11. Clune


The Clune Stone Circle is roughly oval and measures up to 16.5 metres in diameter. It is formed from a single recumbent stone with two flanking stones and six upright stones. A stone cairn has been built within the circle. The signposting for the circle is poor, so follow the forest path as far south as it goes and you should find it.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: There is a car park to the east of the village of Durris, coordinates 57°03'05.4"N 2°20'26.2"W.


Read on to find out which stone circles are in our top ten.



10. Aikey Brae


Aikey Brae Stone Circle is regarded as the most intact recumbent stone circle in Northern Aberdeenshire and it also has one of the best panoramic views. It has 5 erect stones, including the recumbent and East flanker, and 5 fallen stones, including the West flanker. Most of the stones of the circle are of granite although the fallen West flanker and recumbent are of whinstone. The recumbent is estimated to weigh 21.5 tons.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Deer Abbey is just a five-minute drive away, so worth a visit when at the circle.




9. Eslie the Greater


Eslie the Greater recumbent stone circle lies on the east side of the saddle between Knock Hill and the ridge rising eastwards to Mulloch Hill. Of the eight original circle stones (plus recumbent and flankers), five still stand; they range from 1.5m to 0.8m in height, the one opposite the recumbent being, characteristically, the smallest.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The circle is in the middle of a farmer’s field (at the moment it seems to be used for pasture), and there is no obvious easy way in to the field, so we climbed the gate at 57°00'51.1"N 2°27'55.9"W.



8. Sunhoney


The Sunhoney Stone Circle has a diameter of 25.4m comprising nine standing stones plus a large recumbent stone which has an upright flanking stone at either side of it. The surrounding environment makes this circle a very captivating and dreamy site to visit.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: To reach it you drive up the access road to the farmstead at Sunhoney, taking care to leave your car where it won't cause an obstruction in an area that is signed. From here you continue on foot up the hill to your north, before turning west onto a track that leads between fields to the circle itself.


Read on to find out which stone circle tops the list.



7. Old Keig


The recumbent stone circle of Old Keig is situated on a slight crest on a ridge, and within a narrow windbelt. The recumbent stone is massive, being 16ft long on top, 6ft thick, 6 3/4ft high. There are two flankers and five other stones which have toppled.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: If you follow Google Maps directions, it will have you park at the side of the farmer’s field. However, you should rather park 100m further North (57°15'56.5"N 2°40'10.7"W), at the start of the windbelt, then walk down the ridge to the circle.



6. Berrybrae


Only five stones remain at Berrybrae, near Fraserburgh, including the recumbent, two massive stone blocks in situ (one the west pillar) and two prostrate and broken stones, one the east pillar. They are set in a lovely oval bank within a farmer’s field, a little island of antiquity. There is space for two cars to park at the gate to the field (57°36'18.1"N 1°57'20.7"W)


Tailor-Made Top Tip: While in the area, make a ten-minute drive to discover the impressively large Memsie Round Cairn.



5. Midmar


Midmar Recumbent Stone Circle stands in the churchyard of Midmar Parish Church. The circle measures 17.3m in diameter, and consists of the recumbent, 2 flankers and 5 other erect stones. The 2 flankers, each c.2.5m high, have been matched and shaped to resemble two enormous canine teeth, and flank a massive recumbent which weighs 20 tons. It is likely that at least one stone has been re-erected and a ring cairn removed, probably when the graveyard was laid out around the circle in 1914.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Midmar is only a three-minute drive from the Sunhoney Stone Circle, so it’s a great idea to combine the two during a trip.


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4. Tomnaverie


Tomnaverie is a recumbent stone circle and boasts one of the best views, taking in views of Lochnagar and the Cairngorms (on a clear day!). The stone circle surrounds a burial cairn dating to about 4,500 years ago. The site appears to have seen use as late as the AD 1600s.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Just a five-minute drive to the north is the Culsh Earth House. This Iron Age souterrain is a stone-lined underground passage, probably used to store food over 2,000 years ago.



3. Easter Aquhorthies


East Aquhorthies Stone Circle, near Inverurie, was erected about 4,000 years ago, and is one of the finest recumbent stone circles in existence. The circle is made up of 11 upright stones, all of pinkish porphyry, except for the one closest to the east flanker, which is of red jasper. On the south-west edge of the circle is the recumbent stone, the largest in the circle. It rests between the two tallest upright ‘flanker’ stones. The stones show notable geological variation, and appear to have been chosen for their colour.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: East Aquhorthies is close to a number of interesting ancient sites, which could be combined into a great day out. The Loanhead of Daviot stone circle, the Pictish Maiden Stone, the iron age fortifications of Bennachie and the motte & bailey castle and Pictish stones in Inverurie Cemetery, are all just a short drive away.


Have you guessed yet which stone circle tops the list?



2. Aquhorthies


Aquhorthies is not only one of the most impressive recumbent stone circles, but also one of the most complex, preserving a range of visible features that are rarely seen so clearly elsewhere. Not to be confused with East Aquhorthies, which is near Inverurie, Aquhorthies stone circle is in a farmer’s field near Portlethen. Measuring a maximum of 25m from N to S by 23.5m transversely, in its final form the circle comprised at least eighteen stones set out along the leading edge of a platform encircling a well-defined ring-cairn; of that complement, only fourteen remain, and two of these are reduced to stumps. The recumbent block measures 2.75m in length by almost 1.4m in height. Apart from the two stones at the mouth of the forecourt, the large stones are graded in height, from the tallest (2.4m high) to the shortest (1.1m high).


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Park near the abandoned farmhouse at 57°03'22.3"N 2°09'55.2"W. The road to it is rough, but fine to drive with care. Then walk round the side of the field to the circle. Old Bourtreebush Stone Circle is 200m away and can be seen at the same time.


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1. Cothiemuir


So, how to justify having Cothiemuir Stone Circle at the top of this list! Firstly, the stones are in a lovely wooded setting. Then there is the imposing size of the recumbent stone and its flankers – they are huge! There is also the mystery and intrigue of the ‘Devil’s Hoofmarks’, which can be found on the summit of the recumbent stone. They are probably natural indentations, but why mess with a great story!


Measuring about 20m in diameter, the circle encloses a well-preserved cairn and originally comprised up to thirteen stones, though only eight now remain. The recumbent boulder measures 4.15m in length and 1.25m in height. The two flankers, which are the tallest stones in the ring, are of roughly the same height, standing up to 2.7m high.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: There is plenty of parking at the neighbouring Cothiemuir Hill Woodland Burial Ground, and Cothiemuir is also only a five-minute drive from Keig stone circle.


Scroll right to view all the photos.


Conclusion


The stone circles of Aberdeenshire are spread out over the region and are quite accessible, especially if you follow our tips above. Indeed, I was surprised at how many stone circles there were near me living in Aberdeen. Perhaps it is time for you to also discover your backyard and reconnect with your ancestors!