Situated just above Keswick and in the shadow of the imposing Blencathra, lies the mysterious Castlerigg Stone Circle. Cautiously dated at being erected around 3000 BC (give or take a few hundred years) by the Neolithic peoples of Cumbria and is one of the earliest known stone circles in Europe. Made up of several stones of local slate rock up to 5 feet tall (though some may have fallen over since its construction), it is a slightly off circle (one side is flattened) measuring about 100 ft in diameter.
Despite several archaeological digs to the site little evidence has been found to support the various speculations of its intended purpose, adding to its mystery and charm. One of the favoured theories is that the circle represents a meeting place for travelling farmers. Neolithic man in this region practiced ‘transhumance’ farming; moving back and forth between locations depending on the seasons. Movement from the East to West Coast (only around four thousand years before Wainwright made this a popular leisure walk) would have been easiest along the fell ridges and the valley floors were dense woodland at the time.
Other theories include the circle being a market place for trading, the axe industry being popular in the region at the time, or the obligatory attachment of religious or spiritual practices (more than often perpetuated by follows of the neo-pagan movement). It is perhaps unfair to dismiss any religious/spiritual use too early though as one of the stones does form an alignment with the Threlkeld Knot during sunrise at the Autumn Equinox (though you can get most things to line up to the sun and/ or moon at a certain time and place so this could be coincidence). Regardless of its intended purpose, it has been visited by the people of its land and from afar from the past 4500 years or so and remains a popular draw to this day.
A more contemporary folk-legend is that it is impossible to count the number of stones in the circle. The National Trust information boards at the site list the official number as 40 stones, their website lists 38 and I counted 42 (including the smaller ‘packing’ stones though). Personally I don’t really care why my ancient ancestors built the circle, I just like the idea it has been visited by thousands and thousands of people for thousands and thousands of years, who will have all enjoyed the incredible views of some of the Lakes’ highest peaks Blencathra, Skiddaw, Helvellyn and Grassmoor. It might have just been a lovely place to meet and enjoy the views, surely Neolithic man appreciated these panoramic views as much as modern man?