When we learned about Castlerigg Stone Circle, near the Lake District market town of Keswick, we could not resist the opportunity to visit. On a chilly Cumbrian morning, we took a bus to Keswick and began our hour-long hike to the site. The slightly less than two-mile uphill walk through pastures of sheep and cows was very pleasant but was no match for what we were about to see once we crested the final hill and climbed over a rock wall to our first glimpse of the stones.
Castlerigg Stone Circle is located on the perfect natural plateau with a commanding 360-degree view of the ring of mountains surrounding the site. It is perhaps one of the most atmospheric and dramatic places we have ever visited and with the sky opening and closing every few minutes, changing from full sun to shade, it was positively breathtaking.
The site itself is comprised of 38 free standing stones, some up to three meters (10 feet) high and is one of Britain’s earliest stone circles dating back to the Neolithic period (the later part of the Stone Age) 4000 to 5000 years ago. It is truly one of the country’s most impressive prehistoric monuments in terms of astronomy and geometry. Considering that there are more than 300 stone circles in Britain, Castlerigg is truly in a class by itself.
When standing in the midst of these impressive stones one cannot help but wonder why. Why are they here? How did they get here? And…who brought them here? As with many similar stone sites dotted throughout the country, and the whole of the United Kingdom, researchers are still attempting to uncover their origins and significance. As such the mystery continues to this day.
Castlerigg could have functioned as a trading post. Other possible uses include a meeting place for social gatherings, a site for religious ceremonies and rituals or possibly an astronomical observatory with the stones being aligned to the sun, moon and stars. Castlerigg Stone Circle is potentially one of the earliest in the country and is therefore covered under the Ancient Monuments Protection Act. This eternal protection is a testimony to the importance of its heritage and its preservation.
Our time spent at the stones was made all the more pleasant by the fact that there were virtually no crowds. A smattering of people came and went, most having driven to the site, yet they did as so many people do…take a few photos and leave. For long periods we were left alone…just the two of us and these magnificent and mysterious stones.
There are places that we visit, such as cathedrals, pyramids and national parks or any number of man-made wonders, or sights that we see…a super moon or a raging waterfall that can evoke a feeling of smallness in us. Standing among these ancient rocks, atop a plateau with a sky so big it could swallow us was just one of those moments.