Kirkhill Astronomical Pillar – Broxburn, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

Edinburgh is known as the Town of Eden for its abundant greenery, and Almondell and Calderwood Country Park, located just outside the Scottish city, is no exception. Though it contains a rather unique feature: a celestial map of the solar system carved in the late 1700s. Situated across from the nature reserve’s Visitors Center, this four-sided stone column bears rather unusual markings, consisting of a combination of numbers, letters, and various lines. Even if the viewer can read Latin, this collection of characters might not be easily decipherable.

The pillar was commissioned by David Stewart Erskine, the 11th Earl of Buchan (1742 -1829), antiquarian, patron of the arts, and amateur astronomer. On a scale of 12,283.23 miles to the inch, the pillar predicts the celestial geography as it will appear in the sky on May 20, 2255. It is uncertain why Erskine picked this particular date, but he may have been motivated by the Transit of Venus, which occurs every 125 years and is set to occur in 2255, although not on May 20th. During the Transit, the planet Venus is visible from Earth as it passes in front of the sun, much like a solar eclipse of the Moon.

Erskine authorized the monolith’s construction in 1776 on his property in Kirkhill House, not far from its current location. At Kirkhill, Erskine most likely hosted Benjamin Franklin, with whom he was a close friend.

At the time of its fabrication, the planets of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto had yet to be discovered. Over time, the pillar fell into disrepair and would eventually collapse. It was reconstructed in the late 1980s and moved to its present position at Almondell and Calderwood Country Park because Erskine’s younger brother, Henry, built Almondell House.

Know Before You Go

The Visitor's Center will provide one with a brochure that explains the various writings on all sides of the pillar. Visit website for parking information and map.

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November 7, 2022

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