By Duncan Lunan
The first astronomically aligned stone circle in the UK for over 3500 years was built in
Sighthill Park in Glasgow, in 1979. It began as a Jobs Creation project in 1977 with the brief
to build a copy of an ancient site, either Stonehenge or Callanish, out of modern materials, in
one of the city’s parks.
In that form it attracted no applicants, and when I was asked to become Project Manager
in 1978, the first thing I had to do was convince the Parks Department and the Manpower
Services Commission that it wouldn’t work as described. The layout of each ancient site is
specific to its latitude and to its local skyline; furthermore the rising and setting positions of
the Sun and Moon at significant times have altered, because the tilt of the Earth’s axis has
lessened by half a degree since the Neolithic era, and the rising and setting positions of the
stars have altered still more due to Precession of the Equinoxes.
To create a monument which would work in the present day I would have to find a suitable
site and design a structure according to ancient principles. Having won that battle, I then
argued that we should go the whole mile and build it in stone, making it a tribute to Professor
Alexander Thom, Dr. Archie Thom, Dr. (later Prof.) Archie Roy, and Dr. Euan MacKie,
all experts in archaeoastronomy who were prominent staff members of Glasgow University.
Sadly, only Dr. MacKie is still with us, Archie Roy having died in December 2012.
The Principal Landscape Architect for the city gave me a choice of eighteen possible sites,
and by far the best for astronomical alignments on a clear skyline was the newly designated
Sighthill Park, on the Broomhill overlooking the M8 motorway and due north of the city
centre. Historically it was almost ideal. Glasgow Cathedral to the southeast was built on an
ancient Neolithic site, and in the 18th century when the Broomhill, Summerhill and Sighthill
were a huge dairy farm, the drover’s road called ‘Dobbie’s Loan’ still ran from the Cathedral
to the base of the Summerhill pointing straight to midsummer sunset. Summer Solstice fairs
were held on the Summerhill until stopped by the church in the 17th century, and from the
Summerhill, the midsummer Sun rose over the Sighthill. Dobbie’s Loan then ran westward
towards Byres Road, not surprisingly, but projected west, the line meets the river Clyde
at Knappers (as in flint-knappers) in Clydebank, where a huge Neolithic complex was
excavated in the 1930s.
Soon after finding the site I was joined on the Project by the late John Braithwaite, afterwards
Scotland’s only maker of astronomical telescopes until his untimely death in February 2012;
and Gavin Roberts, now Principal Teacher of Art at Airdrie Academy, who documented
everything from then on photographically. The story of the circle’s design and construction
is told in our book, “The Stones and the Stars, Building Scotland’s Newest Megalith”,
published by Springer in November 2012.
The whinstones for the circle came from Beltmoss Quarry in Kilsyth (known as the Back
of the Hill Quarry, it was the last one in Scotland still using black powder). On Professor
Thom’s advice the largest stones were allocated to the lunar alignments, marking the
Moon’s most northerly and southerly rising and setting points every 18.61 years at the
Major Standstill, and the corresponding ones 9.3 years later at the Minor Standstill. As the
prehistoric stone circles were built with the highest technology available we felt we should
do the same, and the solar stones and star stones were flown in by Royal Navy Sea King
helicopter, at the spring equinox of 1979, starting with the midsummer sunrise stone and
proceeding sunwise around the circle. Local schools were given the morning off and the
operation was watched by hundreds of cheering children, with Professor Thom in pride of
place among them. Appropriately, from inception to that point had taken just a year and a
As a goodwill gesture the quarry had denoted five spare stones, and one of those was needed
because one of the bigger ones broke during transport into Glasgow. John Braithwaite and I
proposed a phase 2 in which two of the remainder would be used to mark sunrise and sunset
at the equinoxes, and the other two would support an explanatory plaque, saying what the
circle was, to whom it was dedicated and how it works. Within days of completing phase
1, however, the project was denounced by the newly elected Conservative government, and
work on it was stopped. The circle wasn’t landscaped into the park until 1982, and then the
plans were misread and the stones were partly buried, while the last four stones lie unused
nearby to this day, and there’s nothing to tell anyone what it is or what it’s for.
That hasn’t prevented astronomical observations being made, and the solar events, the Major
Standstill lunar ones and the rising of Rigel have all now been documented on site. The
Rigel alignment is intended to date the circle for future archaeoastronomers, and a similar
alignment for 1800 BC is to show that we understand what the ancient builders knew. Had
the calculated alignments been perfect, not much would have been learned, but because they
aren’t (due for instance to increased atmospheric refraction over the city), it’s possible to
demonstrate that the ancient builders could have achieved the accuracies which are claimed
for them, by naked-eye observations alone.
In 2001 a project was started to regrade and complete the circle, and funding for it was
initially agreed with the City Council, then postponed and finally cancelled. Interest began
to grow again in 2010, however, and with the book about to be published at last, there were
growing hopes towards the end of 2012. On November 26th, however, my wife and I were
called to a meeting with Development and Regeneration Services, to be told that the circle
would be demolished almost immediately, to test the ground for possible contamination, in
order to show that Glasgow was serious about bidding for the 2018 Youth Olympics.
A petition was raised by our friend Mandy Collins and has gained nearly 3300 signatures
at the moment of writing, plus another 600 supporters on Facebook, while media backing
for the campaign has been excellent and it has cross-party political support. It has become
clear that the circle means a great deal to a great many people, for various reasons including
spiritual ones, and in particular that the Pagan and Druid communities have been using it
for private and ceremonial purposes, even though that wasn’t part of the original intention.
My wife Linda has now started her own ALL Seed Group, which uses the Stone Circle for
meetings and rituals on occasion (http://www.anluchtlonrach.net/seed.asp).
The issues concerning contamination have now become somewhat clearer: there was a
chemical factory on the site in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, and although the
ground was tested and pronounced clear in 1978-79, preliminary soil samples indicate that
below the circle’s foundations there is ‘made ground’ which may well be contaminated. If
the area is to be redeveloped, clearing that will require the destruction of the park. The new
object of the campaign is to ensure, if we can, that the circle is retained or replaced in its
present location at the end of that process.
Linda and I remain very grateful for all the support we’ve had hitherto. To back the
campaign, please go the website, www.sighthillstonecircle.com, and sign the petition
under ‘Save Our Stones’. Letters to Glasgow City Council would also be helpful. For any
enquiries please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duncan Lunan is an M.A. with Honours in English and Philosophy plus Physics, Astronomy
and French, and has a postgraduate Diploma in Education. A full-time author and speaker
with emphasis on astronomy, spaceflight and science fiction, his books to date are “Man
and the Stars”, “New Worlds for Old”, “Man and the Planets”, “Starfield” (edited), “With
Time Comes Concord” and “Children from the Sky”. “The Stones and the Stars, Building
Scotland’s Newest Megalith” was published by Springer in November 2012. He has
contributed to 23 other books and published over 820 articles and 33 short stories. As
Manager of the Glasgow Parks Dept. Astronomy Project, 1978-79, he designed and built the
first astronomically aligned stone circle in Britain for over 3000 years, described in “The
Stones and the Stars”.
Duncan was a Curator of Airdrie Public Observatory for 18 years, and in 2006-2009 he ran
an educational outreach project from the Observatory to schools, funded by the National
Lottery. His other interests include ancient and mediaeval history, jazz, folk music and
hillwalking. After 30 years in Glasgow he recently returned to his home town of Troon,
Ayrshire, where he lives with his wife Linda.