THE designer of what is believed to have been Scotland’s first astronomically-aligned stone circle for 3000 years has revealed his relief after having official confirmation the stones are accurately placed following their enforced re-erection.

The Sighthill Circle in Glasgow was first completed in 1979 as part of the Jobs Creation Scheme but was almost torn down in 2012 as part of the area’s redevelopment.

Thanks to a petition that attracted thousands of signatures – with scores of people revealing just how much the stones meant to them – they were preserved, but had to be moved to another nearby site about 200m to the south-east.

The stones – which were originally airlifted into position by a Royal Navy helicopter - were re-erected at the spring equinox of 2019 but until a few weeks ago they had been fenced off due to a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and health and safety reasons linked to the nearby housing development.

Science writer Duncan Lunan, who designed both the original circle and the re-erection, told The National he had reason to be slightly nervous about the re-alignment.

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He said: “The only reason I had reason to be nervous about it was that the first time it was done with pen and paper, and I literally had no idea until the winter solstice of 1979 whether it was accurate or not, and it has in fact turned out over the years that while the various events took place within the diameter of the stones, they weren’t precisely where I’d calculated them to be and this was because it turned into a rushed job at the point the Ministry of Defence said yes to the helicopter.

“I suddenly was given a demand from my boss that I produce all the calculations immediately and the survey work for them had only just been done, so I did have to cut a few corners and make assumptions.

“This time I wanted to go for perfection. With modern computer aids, I was able to plot it all and be confident with the calculations. However, halfway through the erection of the new circle, I discovered the builders had not been given the plans I had drawn up.”

Lunan said the builders had been working with plans drawn up by an architect commissioned by the council’s planning department, so this did leave him with a bit of anxiety about how accurate the circle was going to be.

But on June 22, Dr Kenny Brophy of the University of Glasgow and Lunan’s friend Grahame Gardner both photographed the midsummer sunrise appearing exactly in line with the marker stone.

Lunan said: “It was somewhat a relief. This was the first confirmation I had that the calculations I did six years ago were correct.

“I suppose in the end it was quite important the first one was not as accurate as it could have been, because if it was we wouldn’t have learned as much.

“One of the attacks from the archaeologists on the astronomy of Alexander Thom [an engineer famous for his categorisation of stone circles and his studies of Stonehenge] and the others was that the ancient builders couldn’t have possibly achieved that level of accuracy by naked eye observation.

“Now because mine wasn’t exactly where it was supposed to be, I was able to say by naked eye observation that it could have been made better.”

The National: The newly-erected stone circle at Sighthill, GlasgowThe newly-erected stone circle at Sighthill, Glasgow (Image: Duncan Lunan)

The re-erection of the Sighthill Circle received plenty of coverage on TV and in newspapers, especially as the initial petition that essentially ensured its preservation garnered around 6500 signatures.

Lunan said: “It turned out it meant a great deal to a great many people. I knew one family who had spread ashes there, but it turned out many people had done it.

“Many people went there for meditation. The druids and pagans in Glasgow came out over the issue. It turned out they had been holding sessions there on the quiet all these years.”

But Lunan said the fact the new circle is now open for people to go and visit has had little attention.

Spotlight is set to be shed on the site and its history in a new podcast series by Matthew Magee called Stone Me, featured in the Sunday National last month.

The series follows Magee as he visits six neolithic sites across Scotland, as well as the Sighthill Circle.

The reopening had been scheduled for 2020 but coronavirus but a combination of factors meant the final landscaping was only completed in May.

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Lunan said: “I would definitely say more people need to know its reopened. The re-erection got a lot of coverage, it was on TV and the papers covered it, but there’s been very little since.”

And for anyone who is sceptical about visiting a stone circle which is only 34 years old, Lunan said he hopes the confirmed pinpoint accuracy of the re-erected Sighthill circle will actually prove sceptical archaeologists wrong and tempt budding astronomers to visit.

He said: “There is no feature in it [the Sighthill Circle] that cannot be found at some ancient site.

“As for the archaeologists that insist the ancient ones were not observatories and the alignments have to be coincidental, well mine is an observatory and it works.

“So now the onus should be on them to say where the difference lies.”