Castlerigg Stone Circle (The Druid's Circle)

Castlerigg Fell near Keswick, Cumbria, England.


O.S. Outdoor Leisure Map 4
The English Lakes 1:25,000 - ref:296236


Castlerigg stone circle also known as the Druid's Circle is not a true circle but one flattened slightly along its northern edge. Formed of 38 stones it has an average diameter of around 30 meters, a further 10 stones form a rectangular enclosure within the circles south-east edge whilst a single outlying stone sits by the style in the fields to the south-west. The circle is thought to have been constructed about 3000BC of glacial erratics deposited at the end of the last ice age. In 1725 Stukeley described the circle as ". . . very entire, consisting of fifty stones, some very large." A survey by Thomas Grey in 1769 also revealed fifty stones. The present number of stones was first recorded in Jonathan Otley's 'Guide to the Lakes' of 1849. A mixture of bad arithmatic, stones added and taken away are the cause of the discrepency' the outlying stone is known to have changed position twice!

Professor Alexander Thom thought Castlerigg functioned as an astronomical observatory, alignments to mark the passage of time. But these enigmatic stones do seem to have a tendancy to appear, disappear and wander! Perhaps there is an association with the Neolithic trade in stone-axes, stone axes have been found at the site and the circle along with the nearby Long Meg and Her Daughters lie on a trade route to the north-east stone-axe manufacturing sites. The popular belief of Castlerigg is that it was used by the Druid's to sacrifice people to ancient Gods.

Mid November and in a borrowed car myself and a friend found ourselves parked at the roadside under threatening skies. The day was a Friday and the date the 13th! Boots on, cameras checked, pockets zipped up we crossed the road to the standing stones, pausing at the stile to read the National Trust guide. The grass was lush and wet underfoot a terrific storm threatened overhead. The only other person present was at the southern end of the circle, perhaps a student on some project or other, he had a camera on a tripod and a pyramid of bags at its base. We started walking about the circumfrence of the ring. My friend clockwise and I against the clock - sunwise and widershins - who know's what spirits we were unconciously conjouring! Indeed Castlerigg has a power (feel free to use your own definition of power). At the center of the circle you stand in an amphitheater of stones, about them the hedge that marks the boundary of the field and beyond the brooding mighty fells. To the north the slopes of Skiddaw and Blencathra, south are the suffocating crags of High Rigg and Helvellyn and to the west the fells of Derwent. Relief is offered to the east where the low roling Cross Fell gives way in turn to the Penines. There is a strange awareness of enclosure, of claustraphobia in an open space. John Keats in 1818 used these feelings and imagery in his poem 'Hyperion' to describe the fallen Titans: ". . . like a dismal cirque of Druid stones, upon a forlon moor. . ."

We stalked the stones. Others came and went, walking sticks, small dogs, white socks and purple shell suits were avoided. We left the field, my colleagues camera F.U.M.T.U. and the first cold drops of rain falling. Was the failing camera bad luck, dead batteries or the result of spending to much time at the centre of the circle. The rain began to fall heavily on the road to Keswick. Conversation turned to the student photographer who was stood in the rain waiting for the perfect picture, the fear of purple shell suits and which pub to have lunch in.