Last Updated on
You cannot visit a stone circle, not even a little one, without being impressed. Think about it. Apparently, there are around 1,000 stone circles in Britain. Each one would have taken organisation, willpower and a heck of a lot of muscle to build. Imagine a conversation starting, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea…”
Stone circles are a mysterious feature of the late Neolithic/early Bronze Ages. Almost certainly, they were used for ceremonial and meeting purposes, perhaps bringing different tribes or family groups together. No one lived in them. Experts speculate that they perhaps represent a shift in religious practices. Another thing that might strike you is that stone circles are often located in places that, even today, are relatively remote. Swinside Stone Circle, on the south-western edge of England’s Lake District, is no exception. Unlike its much better-known cousin to the north, Castlerigg near Keswick, it’s a bit off the main tourist track. But it’s still not difficult to visit what is one of the north-west’s most significant, and evocative, prehistoric monuments. And, not only can you get up close and personal with the stones, but because it’s a little out of the way, you might find you’re the only person there.
About 2½ miles west of Broughton in Furness on the A595 is a turning to Broadgate. Find somewhere safe to leave your car – which isn’t easy, parking is very limited – and walk north through the hamlet along a single-track road. After about ½ mile, you’ll find a trackway forking off to the left, leading into the hills, Swinside Farm and the Stone Circle – which you will find hunkered down on your right, beneath Swinside Fell about ¾ mile further on. It’s an easy walk. The circle is in a slight hollow and emerges into vision gradually. Turn toward the farm and you can normally access it via a five-bar gate. Not being privy to the criteria for siting stone circles, you can’t help wondering why our ancestors chose this location; but it is a lovely spot when the weather’s being kind, if a little lonely – despite the nearby farm.
Swinside Stone Circle was constructed from local slate slabs on a foundation of packed pebbles some 5,000 years before you were born. The stones are up to 10 feet (3 metres) high and form what appears to be virtually a perfect circle, with an entrance on the south east. Here, sometimes, you’ll find some flowers – perhaps a gift to the Gods; perhaps marking the time of year. There are 55 stones and the circle is about 93 feet (27 metres) in diameter.
You will find that Swinside is often referred to as ‘Sunkenkirk’. It is even called that on the Ordnance Survey map. Local legend is that nearby villagers tried to build a church, but the Devil kept knocking the stones down. Similar stories are found elsewhere in these islands; maybe these intriguing, but elusive, pieces of folklore come from a time when early Christians were trying to persuade obstinate pagans to change their ways? Or perhaps there’s a church buried beneath the circle.