Castlerigg Stone Circle

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Lake DistrictCastlerigg , Stone Circle, Keswick, CumbriaCastlerigg Stone Circle is probably the best-known prehistoric stone circle in North West England, perched on the slopes to the east of Keswick inside the Lake District National Park.  We will probably never know what our ancestors were doing, building these things.  Perhaps if you visit Castlerigg when there are few other people about, the stones will talk to you.  This could be a challenge, given the rarity of chattering stones these days, coupled with the fact that Castlerigg can get as busy as IKEA on a Saturday afternoon.  But the location is superbly dramatic, surrounded by the Cumbrian Fells, so it is worth dropping by for that alone.  To the north towers Blencathra; to the west, Skiddaw, to the south, High Seat.  Standing inside Castlerigg Stone Circle has been described as like being in a natural amphitheatre; anyway, get the right light and it is an atmospheric place.

I have visited it several times and include a selection of photographs here in an attempt to illustrate Castlerigg’s moods at different times of the year.  One day, I’ll get there in typical Lake District weather, when the sun is blazing down…

Castlerigg, prehistoric remains, CumbriaCastlerigg Stone Circle, English HeritageSomebody went to the considerable bother of setting up Castlerigg about 5,000 years’ ago; and it can’t have been easy.  There are said to be around 1,000 stone circles in the British Isles – a feature of the late Neolithic and early Bronze Ages – and Castlerigg is one of the earliest.  It’s roughly 100 feet (30 metres) across, not a perfect circle, and used to consist of forty-two ancient, local, stones.  There are only thirty-eight of them now, and they vary in height above ground from 3¼ feet (1 metre) to 7½ feet (2.3 metres).  That said, some folk will tell you that the number of stones varies…and in 1919, a climber is said to have seen strange balls of light moving among the stones…in ideal conditions, you could spot large, pink, bunny rabbits.

Castlerigg, winter, visit Lake DistrictCastlerigg, sanctuary, prehistoric remains, CumbriaWithin the circle is a group of a further 10 stones in a rectangle forming what is known as the sanctuary, or cove – the purpose of which is unknown.  At the northern end of the circle, two larger stones flank what was probably an entrance.  Three stone axes, now in Keswick Museum (and originating from a Neolithic axe factory on Great Langdale nearby) were found in 1875 and the sanctuary was excavated in 1882, revealing nothing but charcoal.  The site has never been extensively excavated, however.  Curiously, the earliest known record of Castlerigg Stone Circle only dates back to 1776, in an account by the antiquarian William Stukeley, who visited it in 1725.  Intriguingly, Stukeley mentions another circle in a nearby field – but no trace of this has ever been found.

Touch the stones, stone circles, BritainLake District, Keswick, National ParkThere may be significant astronomical alignments in the construction, which might have meant something to the builders in around 3,000BC.  Or maybe they intended it as a meeting place, for trade or ceremonial purposes – or both. All jesting aside, we can but visit these places and wonder.

Castlerigg was one of the first scheduled ancient monuments in Britain in 1883.  It is owned by the National Trust and cared for by English Heritage.  Or maybe it’s the other way round.  Anyway, you’ll find it about 1½ miles east of Keswick on a minor road, signposted from both the A591 and A66.  There is limited parking in a lay-by.  Take stout shoes – it can be wet and muddy.

33 thoughts on “Castlerigg Stone Circle

  1. Frank McArdle

    Just wondering about Castlerigg Stone Circle. Do any of the stones or inner circle record the Solstice or an Equinox?. Have Time Team ever recorded any programmes here?

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Hi Frank, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I’m no expert, but am not aware of any significant astronomical alignments in the construction of Castlerigg Stone Circle and don’t believe Time Team has recorded anything there. For me, one of the fascinating things about Castlerigg and other, similar, places is that we just don’t have a clue why our ancestors went to so much trouble to build them.

      1. Frank McArdle

        It looks similar in size to Brù Na Boinne/Newgarange in Co. Meath in Ireland, I:e the actual site. The mound on the site records the winter Solstice on 21/12, every year. It is recognized as being the oldest building in the world, being over 5,000 years old

  2. beetleypete

    Thanks for following my blog, which is much appreciated. You have some wonderful and unusual features here on your blog.
    I am guessing you will have spotted my own blog post about Castlerigg?
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. milliethom

    I love this place, too, and have been there many times, I have relatives who live in the area, so I’ve been visiting Castlerigg since I was a child. The last time was a couple of years ago now, but it never changes, does it? (Except for its moods, dependent on the weather up there, as you say.) You have some great photos of the site the ‘snowy’ ones are lovely. As you said in your post, it’s so often wet and muddy in that field. I enjoyed the great historical detail and other interesting snippets, so thank you for sharing them.

  4. CherryPie

    I have not yet made it to Castlerigg, although it is a place on my list to visit. Thank You for your photos, they have brought the place alive for me 🙂

  5. furrygnome

    I find those old stone circles absolutely fascinating. When you put them together with the building skills that built a place like Maes Howe, it must have been a very advanced society in certain ways.

  6. diane

    At last you have written about a place I have visited. It was a nice clear day but windy and cold. There weren’t many people there on that day but it was back in 2009. I always look and wonder at these sort of things. I sometimes think there was a lot more to our past history of civilisations. The book ‘Chariots of the Gods’ was believable for me.

  7. Clare Pooley

    We must have been very lucky in our visit to Castlerigg as there were only two other visitors. We visited during the late afternoon in July a couple of years ago; the sun was shining , the sky was blue and it was warm! We had a wonderful time there! Thanks for the history of the place and all these wonderful photos!

  8. Ellen

    It’s good to see photos from different seasons. We were there in May of 2006 before we owned good digital cameras. I wouldn’t mind revisiting the Lake District with my digital camera in hand. Thanks for all the info, Mike!

  9. williamkendall1

    I can’t recall hearing of it before, but these stone circles and other constructs from thousands of years ago fascinate me. The landscape is amazing… the Lake District is one area I’d love to visit someday.

  10. Amy

    Excavating it could be interesting indeed. I have scottish ancestry in both the highlands and lowlands and would love to travel around the country.

  11. Blue Sky Scotland

    Interesting place. I’ve been there a few times in passing via climbing the surrounding hills but I’ve never got it quiet enough to really appreciate it. Very busy in peak season which puts me right off as stone circles really come to life when exploring alone. You should have hugged a standing stone and maybe ended up in Outlander. It worked for her :o)

  12. mekslibrarian

    I love places like this with something of a mystery! No matter the weather, I imagine it is rather impressive any time of year. But as busy as IKEA on a Saturday – no, thanks. I like IKEA (half my flat’s contents are from there), but I hate the inconsiderate throngs of people that sometimes you can not avoid meeting there.

  13. Tina

    Absolutely stunning. I wonder why my great grandparents left this area of England with it’s natural beauty. Your photos and fabulous.
    My astronomer husband would love to check this out.

  14. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – I think you’re right in one respect – the most important of two … we will never know and we need to marvel quietly at our ancestors abilities.

    2ndly – I feel the laybye for parking … isn’t good enough for the Ikeaness of the place?!

    Cheers Hilary

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