10 stone circles and neolithic wonders in the U.K. (and how to photograph them)

First published:
August 18, 2022
July 28, 2023

10 stone circles and neolithic wonders in the U.K. (and how to photograph them)

First published:
August 18, 2022
July 28, 2023

Castlerigg Stone Circle at sunrise by Stuart Welch

Where to go to take photos of monuments dating back to 3,000 BC

The U.K is packed with hundreds of mysterious remains of the Neolithic period about 3000 to 5000 years ago. Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England may be the most famous, but from standing stones and stone circles to burial chambers and henges, these monuments are hidden away in landscapes.just waiting to be photographed. Most of them are accessible day and night.

While searching for, or visiting (what are thought to be) burial chambers you’ll often come up against varied terminology, from barrows and quoits to cromlech, dolmen and longhouse, but don’t worry – they all refer to pretty much the same thing. Here are 10 of the most impressive and atmospheric neolithic monuments to photograph… 

1 Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire, Wales

A sunburst capture of summer solstice in Pentre Ifan, Wales. Photo by Luke Saxton - f/22 | ISO 200 | 1/20s

Stonehenge is famously made from Pembrokeshire bluestone. So it shouldn't be surprising that Pembrokeshire is something of a Neolithic hot bed, with this burial chamber perhaps the most iconic in the region. One of the most open such monuments of all, it’s got a huge capstone you can easily get underneath with room to spare. It’s close to Castell Henllys Iron Age Village as well as to many other neolithic burial chambers (see below).

Author tip:

To get this classic sunburst effect you need a clear sky – or at least clear sight of the Sun. With your camera in aperture priority mode (AV mode) dial-in ISO 100 and set the aperture to f/20, experimenting with lower and lower settings until you get a sunburst and a relatively bright foreground. Shoot in raw to make post-processing easier. 

2 Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire, England

The Rollright Stones, or King's men, at dawn in Oxfordshire, England. Photo by Andy Howes - f/8 | ISO 100 | 1/60s

The Rollright Stones in the Cotswolds comprise three monuments, the most impressive which is the King's Men stone circle. It’s made from limestone, as are the two other monuments close by; the Whispering Knights burial chamber and the King Stone monolith.

Author tip: Since some monuments are surrounded by hedges and in fairly tight spaces consider taking a wide-angle or fisheye lens so you can get as much of the monument in as possible.  

3 The Stones of Stenness, Orkney, Scotland

The Stones of Stenness with the Northern Lights in Orkney, Scotland. Photo by Kenneth McEwen

Part of the 5,000 years old Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site (which also includes the village of Skara Brae), the Stones of Stenness may have been part of a cultural centre for ancient Britons. Five miles northeast of Stromness on the mainland of Orkney, use a wide-angle lens or zoom in to isolate specific stones.

Author tip: Most neolithic structures are photographed during the day, so a night-shoot can add something extra. Go in the seven nights between Last Quarter Moon and New Moon for a properly dark, moonless sky. If you’re in northern Scotland between September and March there’s a chance you’ll see the Northern Lights.

4 Lanyon Quoit, Cornwall, England

The Lanyon Quoit date back to around 3000 years BC. Whilst it’s exact use is uncertain, it is thought to have been used for Stone Age rites. Cornwall, England. Photo by Charles Palmer - f/4 | ISO 6400 | 180s

Like most remaining neolithic structures this one in West Cornwall sits on the moorland that has never been farmed or developed. Situated close to a road between Madron and Morvah, Lanyon Quoit is frequently visited, so come early or at night for some privacy. Since a storm in 1815 it’s stood on three standing support stones, not four. Nearby is Men-an-Tol.

Author tip: If you want to capture the Milky Way behind a neolithic monument then aim for between April (when it rises after midnight) and September (when it’s visible after dark). It rises in the southeast, which instantly limits your composition options.

5 Avebury, Wiltshire, England

Taken on a crisp winter morning at Avebury in Wiltshire, England. Photo by Stewart Downes

A highlight of prehistoric Britain yet so often overlooked for Stonehenge just 24 miles away, the World Heritage Site at Avebury preserves the largest megalithic stone circle in the world. However, it’s irregular in structure and so vast that it’s impossible to photograph it all at once (roads cross the stone lines and earthworks block the view). Take the long walk around its premier and look for angles. It’s open dawn till dusk.

Author tip: A great time to go to any neolithic site is sunrise. Not only do most people associate these structures with alignments to the sunrise (some are aligned, others are not), but at this time of day you’ll also get dramatic long shadows. 

6 Carreg Samson, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Carreg Samson is a Megalithic Dolmen or burial chamber, located near Abercastle in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Photo by Steve Jones - f/1.7 | ISO 100 | 1/1250s

A 5,000-year-old neolithic tomb on the world-famous Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, Carreg Samson is in a farmer’s field, but has a dramatic backdrop of cliffs. Its capstone sits on three of the seven uprights. It’s most easily visited along a short path that begins in the tiny fishing port of Abercastle.

Author tip: Pembrokeshire is a playground for photographers hunting for neolithic sites. South of Carreg Samson is Coetan Arthur on St. David’s Head while just north are Carreg Coetan in Newport and Llech y Drybedd just north. A few miles inland is Pentre Ifan. 

7 Machrie Moor, Isle of Arran, Scotland

Three of the larger stones at Machrie Moor on Isle of Arran, Scotland. Photo by Paul Roberts - f/16 | ISO 100 | 41s

These remains of six stone circles and isolated standing stones are in the west of the Isle of Arran. There’s a lot to explore, though it’s the three free-standing 5m tall red sandstone slabs that are the most frequently photographed. The highest mountain on Arran, Goatfell, can be captured in the background.

Author tip: Adding a sense of movement to these permanent structures can be achieved by using long exposures when there are fast-moving clouds. You can use ND filters to prevent over-exposing during the day, though twilight and moonlight at night can achieve a similar effect. 

8 Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria, England

Castlerigg stone circle reveals a hidden energy waiting to be discovered in Cumbria, England. Photo by Dave Worswick

One of the oldest stone circles to be found in Britain, Castlerigg Stone Circle’s location is as special as its 38 free standing stones. On a plateau commanding views all around, it could be a good location to try using a 360º camera for the first time. One theory is that Castlerigg was used as an astronomical observatory. It’s close to Keswick in the Lake District.

Author tip: To get the effect shown in this photo read our beginner’s guide to steel wool photography. However, to be very careful not only to protect whoever is spinning the steel wool, but the photographer and the environment. Unless there’s been a lot of rainfall or snow, do not attempt a shot like this because the risk of wildfire is too great. 

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9 Callanish Stones, Stornoway, Scotland

The Callanish Stones are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. Photo by Luca Quadrio - f/9 | ISO 100 | 1/320s

Scotland's best-preserved Neolithic monument and one of the most important in Europe, Callanish is actually three separate stone circles. Callanish 1 comprises a ring of stones surrounding an imposing central monolith. It’s thought to have been an astronomical observatory. It’s open all day and night.

Author tip: Nearby are Callanish 2 and Callanish 3, which are also worth visiting, while Callanish 4 is only three miles south. There are several other sites, too, largely with solitary standing stones. 

10 Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey, Wales

A Neolithic Burial Chamber, one of several on Anglesey, Wales. Photo by Jim Clark - f/16 | ISO 80 | 1/25s

Although the name may not be familiar, the image probably is. Found on the island of Anglesey in North West Wales, Bryn Celli Ddu (the ‘Mound in the Dark Grove’) is only a short drive from Snowdonia National Park and worth the effort. A long path between hedgerows leads to a henge (bank and ditch) enclosing a chambered tomb beneath a mound. At sunrise on the summer solstice, shafts of light shine directly down the tomb’s passageway to illuminate the chamber within.

Author tip: If you want to capture a neolithic monument lining-up with the sunrise on the summer solstice these are the dates to aim for. Get there early! Wednesday, June 21, 2023. Thursday, June 20, 2024. Saturday, June 21, 2025. Sunday, June 21, 2026
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