Castlerigg
Neolithic / Bronze Age Stone Circle
East of Keswick, Cumbria  OS Map Ref NY29142362
OS Maps - Landranger 90 (Penrith & Keswick), Explorer OL4 (The English Lakes: NW Area)


Castlerigg looking southeast
Thought to be one of the oldest stone circles in Britain and dating from either the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, Castlerigg or 'The Carles' stands on a plateau of land within a natural ampitheatre formed by hills including Skiddaw, Blencathra, Clough Head, High Seat, and the Derwent Fells - possibly one of the finest settings of any British circle. The photograph above taken in evening light in Spring 2002 shows the view southeast over the circle and towards the ridge of hills running south from Clough Head to Helvellyn.

The circle itself is actually an oval shaped setting of thirty-eight large stones (the tallest are around 3 metres high), with the north-south axis measuring 32 metres across and the shorter east-west axis being 29 metres with faint traces of a bank to the north. To the north a gap between two large stones marks the entrance while to the east is a rectangular 'cove' setting of ten stones measuring around 7.5 metres by 3.5 metres which is offset from the centre axis but meets the eastern edge of the circle. Excavations of this strange structure in the late 19th century found only charcoal remains. The circle also contains two almost flattened barrows to the northeast and northwest but the only recorded material finds from the circle itself consist of a couple of large stone axe heads - possible evidence that the circle formed a link in the Cumbrian axe trade (see Copt Howe and Pike of Stickle). Castlerigg also has an outlier, a stone that stands next to a stile through a wall to the southwest of the circle.

In recent years several pieces of rock art have come to light at Castlerigg - there may be a faint clockwise spiral on one of the stones that face into the cove but due to being badly eroded it is only possible to see it under favourable light conditions*. A few other stones are decorated, one has a cup and partial ring, another has a chevron and another has either a chevron or crosshatch pattern.

Because of its position in the heart of the Lake District, right on the edge of Keswick, the circle attracts many visitors whatever the weather or season, much like the Merry Maidens in Cornwall. I first visited it in 1990 and it remains a truly magical place that draws one back time after time. If you want a chance to have the site to yourself, an early morning or late evening visit is recommended.

*Update: In 2006 after much investigation is was concluded that no spiral carving exists on this stone!
Castlerigg stone circle looking towards the west
View of Castlerigg stone circle looking towards the west - Spring 2003
Castlerigg Circle Looking East
View to the east. On the left is the distant hill of Great Mell Fell while Clough Head is centre-right (2002)
Castlerigg Entrance Stones
View out through the entrance stones with Lonscale Fell to the left, Blencathra to the right.
The Cove setting
View of the rectangular Cove setting of stones with inset plan for clarity.
Castlerigg Rock Carvings
Detail of the carvings on some of the stones.
Left - Outlier, Right - Plan
Left - An outlying stone. Right - Plan of the hills around the site (based on the information board.)
Castlerigg - Elevation Map
Castlerigg in its landscape setting. Looking north over a height shaded elevation map measuring 30x30km (roughly 350 square miles). The block of hills to the north has Skiddaw to the left and Blencathra to the right. To the west is Derwent Water with Bassenthwaite to the northwest. To the south is Castlerigg Fell and the valley of Thirlmere. The pass through the hills to the east is now the route of the A66 leading to Penrith.
360 Degree Panorama
360 Degree Panorama

Site Visits / Photographs:

June 1990, August 1994, May 2002, April 2003, August 2003.

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