Castlerigg is the most visited stone circle in Cumbria. These are really only found in the British Isles. Hundreds were built between 3,300 and 900 BC, the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. I love these sites, they are very evocative and a wonderful trip for the imagination. It’s fascinating to think back to how people lived their lives thousands of years ago, what beliefs they had and what ceremonies they performed.
Castlerigg is special because of its unique setting amongst the Lakeland fells. From within the circle looking across to the surrounding hills, it’s possible to find a view with no modern structures at all, so it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like 5,000 years ago.
Some of the highest fells in the Lake District surround the circle, Blencathra, Skiddaw, Grasmoor and Helvellyn.
There are many other circles in Cumbria. From large monumental circles such as Castlerigg and Long Meg to early bronze age circles at Casterton and Elva Plain.
A Magical place
The site here attracts thousands of visitors a year, but if you visit early in the morning, you have a good chance of being the only person there. I stopped off here one morning for a visit in autumn, before going off on a day’s fellwalking. When I arrived the sun was still low in the sky and shining through the morning mist still lingering around the stones. I had the place to myself for about 10 minutes, just the atmosphere and silence to connect me to ancient times. That was a magical moment, one I’ll always remember. That was a few years ago now, and unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera with me.
The History of Castlerigg Stone Circle
Castlerigg is thought to have been built around 3000 BC, making it one of the earliest sites in the country. Many of the stone circles in Britain are burial sites dating from the Bronze Age. In contrast, Neolithic sites such as Castlerigg do not contain burials. Also, Neolithic circles are generally larger and usually consist of an open circle of large stones. Castlerigg is about 30 metres in diameter and was built with 42 stones of varying height (there are only 38 remaining today).
Two very large upright stones flank the entrance to Castlerigg on the north side of the circle. It has one unusual feature, a rectangle of stones inside the circle. On the map of the site, this is called “the Sanctuary”, but its purpose is unknown. It seems that this structure was added at a later date, which suggests Castlerigg was used over a long period of time.
There have not been many excavations at Castlerigg, so what lies beneath the surface is a mystery. Back in the 19th Century, three Neolithic stone axes were found on the site.
The precise function of these early circles is unknown. Sites such as this were without question important meeting places for the Neolithic communities. However, it’s not understood if they were just trading places or if they had some kind of religious significance.
The location of Castlerigg suggests it could have been a meeting place, where people travelling east from the coast and west from the Eden Valley might have met before travelling to the axe factories and summer pastures in the central fells.
National Trust / English Heritage
Castlerigg became very popular in the 19th Century, so much so that people were chipping small pieces off the stones to take away as souvenirs. A movement to save and protect Castlerigg was started. It became one of the first ancient sites bought and given to the National Trust. The National Trust still owns the land today and the site is managed by Engish Heritage.
How to get there
Castlerigg is open any reasonable time during daylight hours. If you are travelling by car its address is Castle Lane, Underskiddaw, Keswick, CA12 4RN. There is limited car parking close to the site. The site can be reached in 30 minutes on foot from Keswick or you can get there by bus. Visit the Stagecoach website for times.
Dogs on leads are welcome, but please be aware that the site is grazed by sheep. Enjoy your visit.
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