Blog by Gillian Hovell, The Muddy Archaeologist www.muddyarchaeologist.co.uk
Castlerigg Stone Circle perches high in the Lake District in Britain.
The circle was built c. 3,000 BC in the Neolithic. It was the time of the early farmers in this area, just as humans were settling down into year-round permanent homes.
As Castlerigg is one of the earliest stone circles, it’s among the first great monuments that we, as humans, made on the landscape of the British Isles.
It’s remarkable to be here, thinking how people have stood here, gazing at these mountains, experiencing this astonishing site for 5,000 years. The lumpy solidity of the mountains that wheel around this grassy shoulder create an astonishing arena. You feel that you’re in a bowl, with the landscape dipping away and then rising around you.
It that way, it’s very similar to the contemporary Ness of Brodgar site on Orkney; there too, you stand in stone circles and turn 360 degrees with hills and landscape creating your horizon …
Even today, in rain, or in sun, it is one of the most atmospheric sites in Britain. In 2 visits within 24 hours to the Stones, we had the privilege of experiencing several different weather conditions – ah, the fun of being in England, now that Summer is here …
But back to the stones themselves …
30m across, with 38 of its original 42 stones still present, this Neolithic circle was erected by some of the earliest generations of farmers. Settling down, instead of leading a transient migrant life, enables vast monuments to be built. Was it one community, or the meeting place for several? It’s likely to have been used for a variety of purposes (just as any church that has stood for centuries will have – and still does – vary its activities and even details of belief and expression of worship, community and social activity, over the generations.
Some stones are still over 2m high. They are impressive now, but they must have been even more so in a time when such monuments were new, ‘modern’ expressions of human life (and possibly death and almost certainly a spiritual aspect).
Walk through the entrance, with two great stones on either side. The stones beside these are packed closely; this is just the ruin of a once truly monumental entrance.
Neolithic axes made at nearby Great Langdale were found here long ago, and there is a very unusual rectangular feature of stones within the circle. Beyond that, the evidence for what went on here is thin. But if that leaves you underwhelmed, consider how much of what we build today will still be here in 5,000 years time …
Castlerigg stone circle. It’s worth visiting; it has easy access, stunning views, thought-provoking archaeology.
Whatever the weather. Don’t forget to take your waterproofs AND your suncream. And plenty of archaeological imagination and time to take in the wonderful scenery.