Barnhouse Settlement

The Barnhouse Settlement

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is one of the best places to peer back in time and see Neolithic structures in Scotland. And while this UNESCO Heritage Site boasts splendid monuments like Skara Brae and the Standing Stones of Stenness, you shouldn’t forget about the quaint Barnhouse Settlement that sits in the ceremonial centre of the entire ancient network. 

This Neolithic settlement on mainland Orkney was one of the latest discovered, with potential connections to the Stones of Stenness. If you’re interested in the Barnhouse structures of Orkney, you’ve come to the right place! We cover everything you need to know, from its rich history to how to get there and things to do during your visit. Let’s jump right into it!

History of the Barnhouse Settlement


Compared to the other attractions in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, the Barnhouse Settlement is a relatively new discovery. Excavated in 1986, only 150 metres from the Stones of Stenness, the Barnhouse Settlement is a collection of small buildings likely used as homes for Neolithic humans – similar to Skara Brae.

The settlement was discovered by a wandering archaeologist named Colin Richards during a field walking exercise. Many of the homes had little remains due to the agricultural activity that had taken place since there was enough to note around 15 tiny houses and huts.

While it was newly discovered, the Barnhouse is one of the oldest settlements at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney and goes back to about 3200 BCE, 450 years before Skara Brae. The owners of the Barnhouse Settlement may have been the builders of mighty monuments like the Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness, and Maeshowe.

The buildings were round, with timber or turf cladding surrounding the outer walls. Interestingly, the houses were free-standing and not clad in midden like the nearby Skara Brae, which historians suspect could mean the Barnhouse was only a temporary home for builders or didn’t require support and protection.

The Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement shows that this region was not only for ceremonial sites but also a home for Neolithic people. 

How to Get to Barnhouse Settlement

The Isle of Orkney sits north of the Scottish mainland and can often be overlooked by travellers. If you want to know what’s the quickest way to reach the ancient Barnhouse settlement, take a look at our recommendations for ferry, plane, and car below:

By Ferry

There are quite a few options for reaching Orkney via ferry. The quickest trips are from Thurso and Gills Bay, reaching Stromness and Kirkwall (Orkney’s largest town) in around an hour.

There are also ferries from Aberdeen and Lerwick, which take around six hours to reach Kirkwall. Since the Orkney Islands are part of an archipelago, you must bring your car onto the ferry if you plan to drive.

By Plane

Loganair offers a variety of flights in and out of Orkney if you’re planning a quick trip. You can fly from many of Scotland’s major cities, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, and Aberdeen. And if you plan to visit Orkney from England, there are even flights from London (albeit with connecting flights).

By Car

Once you’ve arrived in Kirkwall, the Stones of Stenness are only a 16-minute drive away! Here’s how to get there:

  • From Kirkwall, head northwest along the A965 (while admiring the gorgeous views of landmarks like Bay of Firth, Tormiston Mill and Maeshowe).
  • Once you’ve passed the Barnhouse Stone, you should see signs for the Standing Stones of Stenness. Turn right onto the B9055; the Stones should be on your right.
  • A simple walk about 100 metres from there should take you to the Barnhouse structure.

Top Things to Do at Barnhouse Settlement

Once you’ve arrived at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, take some time away from the fascinating historic sites to visit the Barnhouse dwellings. Here are some things you can look forward to during your visit!

See one of the Newest Discoveries at Orkney

New Orkney Discoveries

As we’ve mentioned, the Barnhouse Settlement is one of the newest discoveries you can find on Orkney. The settlement has eroded due to agricultural ploughing, but you can still see a few notable homes, including two structures that were vastly more complex to build than any building at Skara Brae. House Two and Structure Eight may have been the home of a person of great importance, although this is still being determined.

The Barnhouse shares a few similarities with Skara Brae, including stone furniture, box beds, and central hearths.

See the Heart of Neolithic Orkney Heritage Site

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

If the Barnhouse Settlement was the home for the builders of Orkney’s most fantastic structures, it’s only fair to look at their creations. Once you’ve soaked in the parts of the settlement that are visible today, many other attractions are nearby.

Skara Brae

Skara Brae is the Neolithic village that formed around 500 years after the Barnhouse settlement. Although there are several similarities, much more of Skara Brae is intact and can be explored by visitors. Skara Brae offers a fantastic way to see how Neolithic humans lived, from its outer walls to the roofed passageways.

The site is home to a stone-age village, Bronze Age homes, and even a Laird’s home.

Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic monument of epic proportions. Once, over 60 standing stones stood in a 60-metre diameter circle, although now only 36 remain. This stone circle is one of the most awe-inspiring sites you can see at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, so be sure to stop by during your visit.

Standing Stones of Stenness

Within 150 metres of the Barnhouse settlement, you can find a prominent set of stone circles called the Standing Stones of Stenness. Also known as the Stenness Henge, the stones here clearly connect to Neolithic and Norse rituals, with many exciting stories about how they were constructed and worshipped throughout time.

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