There are over a thousand stone circles spread out over the British Isles and Brittany, one in particular capturing the imagination of everyone from neo-Druids to fake rock bands. And while Stonehenge may get the best press, Castlerigg, one of 10 stone circles in and around Lake District National Park, might just take the crown as England’s most dramatic.
Stone circles were built thousands of years ago by hauling enormous boulders or stone monoliths into a clearing and arranging them in—you guessed it—a circle. Most date to the early Bronze Age, which was about 2000 B.C. to 800 B.C., but Castlerigg is much older, constructed around 3000 B.C. in the late Neolithic period. It’s not as well-known as other circles, not even as those in its own neighborhood (the most famous in the Lake District area has the evocative name of “Long Meg and Her Daughters”), but it is perhaps the most vividly situated of all the British stone circles, ringed by stunning views and the mountains of Blencartha, Helvellyn and Skiddaw.
As with other stone circles, what exactly it was used for takes a certain amount of conjecture. Theories range from it being an astronomical observatory (the tallest stones line up with certain celestial events) to it being used for the exchange of stone axes in a kind of ritualistic swap meet. Although Castlerigg hasn’t been excavated or studied to the extent of other stone circles, most archeologists think it was probably multi-purpose—used for marking events of the seasons, trade, festivals and tribal gatherings.
Castlerigg Stone Circle makes a brief appearance in the writings of Samuel Coleridge, who visited the site with his pal William Wordsworth in 1799. Maybe as a poet he knew the score better than the archeologists, seeing that the views alone justified putting 40 giant boulders in the middle of a field. Describing the view from the circle, Coleridge wrote: “The Mountains stand one behind the other, in orderly array as if evoked by & attentive to the assembly of white-vested Wizards.”
(Additional material contributed by Atlas Obscura user Ned Netherwood.)
Know Before You Go
The Stone Circle is about a mile and a half east of the village of Keswick in England's Lake District. Follow Penith Road east for about a mile and turn right onto Eleventrees. In half a mile turn right onto Castle Lane, and the site will be on your left. The road is narrow and parking is tight - so you might want to take the 30 minute stroll or short bike ride from Keswick, and ditch the car. Unlike Stonehenge you can wander among the stones. And the area is an active grazing field, so you might even get to see some sheep too.