Castlerigg Stone Circle, also known as Keswick Carles, Carles, Carsles or Castle-rig near Keswick is one of the most visually impressive prehistoric monuments in Britain and as such is the most visited stone circle in Cumbria. Each year, thousands upon thousands of people make the short journey from Keswick to the plateau of Castlerigg Fell and to Chestnut Hill, on which the monument stands. The plateau forms the raised centre of a natural amphitheatre created by the surrounding fells and from within the circle it is possible to see four of the five tallest peaks in Cumbria, namely, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Grasmoor and Blencathra.
The stones are made of local metamorphic slate, set in a flattened circle, measuring 107ft (32.6m) at the widest point and 97ft (29.5m) at the narrowest. The heaviest stone has been estimated to weigh in at around 16 tons and the tallest stone measures approximately 2.3m high. There is a 3.3m wide gap in the northern edge, which may once have been an entrance.
Within the circle, abutting the eastern quadrant, is a roughly rectangular setting of a further 10 stones. The circle is thought to have been constructed around 3200 BC, the late Neolithic/early Bronze-Age, making it possibly one of the earliest stone circles in Britain and quite likely Europe, too.
It is important to archaeo-astronomers who have noted that the sunrise during the Autumn equinox appears above the top of Threlkeld Knott, a hill some 3.5km’s to the east. Various stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various other lunar positions.
There is an old saying that it is impossible to count the number of stones within Castlerigg as each attempt will result in a different answer. This may not be far from the truth. As a result of erosion of the soil around the stones, caused by the large number of visitors to the monument, several smaller stones have ‘appeared’ next to some of the larger stones. As these stones are so small, they are likely to have been packing stones used to support the larger stones when the circle was constructed and would originally have been buried. Differences in opinion as to the exact number of stones within Castlerigg are usually down to whether the observer counts these small packing stones, or not.As a result some count 38 and others 42. The Natural Trust information board at the site elects for a total of 40, satisfying both camps !
Despite many informed guesses it is not known for sure what was the driving motivation behind the building of Castlerigg, its use after construction or indeed whether or not this changed over the following years.
The most recent thinking is that Castlerigg was directly linked with the Neolithic greenstone Langdale axe industry carried out in the nearby fells of Langdale and that the circle acted as a meeting place where axes were both traded and bought.
Ritually deposited stone axes are frequently found all over the United Kingdom, leading to the conclusion that their use went far beyond their mundane practical capabilities. As a result of this, any exchange or trading of stone axes may not have been possible without first taking part in a ritual or ceremony. Castlerigg stone circle may well have been the space where such ceremonies took place.
photo credit: yoTraveler