So, as things start to return to normality following 2020, let us focus on some amazing stone circles. In particular, those found in the Lake District. From its soaring fells to the shores of the Irish Sea, you can find yourself alone with a stunning view and an ancient stone circle.
If you would like to know more about the circles listed below, as well as many more sites across Cumbria – please consider reading my new book Cumbria’s Prehistoric Monuments. Those listed here are only the tip of a vast iceberg, which includes cairns, long barrows, henges, stone avenues, and much more.
Castlerigg’s younger, less famous cousin takes the top spot on our list. Swinside (or Sunkenkirk) is an archetypal stone circle.
Swinside is located beside the aptly named ‘Grey Stones Fell’, north of the Duddon Estuary, and is only just within the National Park. Swinside isn’t particularly like Castlerigg, despite frequent comparisons. It shares far more in common with ‘Long Meg and Her Daughters’ near Penrith.
At number two is Elva Plain, a large, but ruinous circle to the north of Bassenthwaite. It has a lot in common with its neighbour, Castlerigg. It is large and made up of large megaliths. It provides breath-taking views of well-known Lake District Fells. But, unlike Castlerigg, Elva Plain has escaped the clutches of the tourist industry. If you want to experience Castlerigg without the coach parties – try Elva Plain.
A controversial choice at number three, is Castlerigg. It resides on a hill to the east of Keswick, overlooking many beloved fells. It is easy to understand why this is one of England’s most popular prehistoric sites. With ample parking, a regular ice-cream van, and information placards, Castlerigg is well kitted out for visitors.
Unlike many of the circles listed here, which date to the Early Bronze Age, Castlerigg was created in the Neolithic period. Though to date to an estimated 3200 BC, this awe-inspiring circle ranks among Britain’s earliest.
Three Bronze Age burial cairns are found within the circle, as well as a potential rock art motif. These were later additions, added hundreds (if not thousands) of years after the circle’s creation.
At number four is Brats Hill, Cumbria’s 3rd widest stone circle, behind Gamelands and Long Meg. It sits only eighty metres southeast of the White Moss circles. Bones found within the circle were dated to the Early Bronze Age (est. around 2500 - 2000 BC).
Brats Hill varies in grandeur throughout the year. In Summer and Autumn, the long moorland grasses obscure most of the circle’s stones. In Winter, however, the monument takes on a new, more impressive form. Five large cairns sit within the circle, as well as several tall standing stones.
The Cockpit resides on Moor Divock, a tract of moorland south of Ullswater. The Cockpit is not a stone circle in the traditional sense, but rather two closely concentric rings of stone. A band of cobbling connects these rings, giving the circle its donut-like shape.
It is an odd circle, and few comparable monuments exist in England. It may be a large example of a ‘ring cairn’, as it shares its form with examples found near Levens.
While unimpressive from ground level (or at any level for that matter), Low Kingate gets my number six spot for its rarity. Low Kingate is the only ‘concentric stone circle’ in the Lake District. This is an uncommon style of circle where two or more rings are arranged within one another.
Its situation is also unique. Sitting at the side of the Troutbeck Valley, off Kirkstone Pass, Low Kingate commands some of the best views in the South Lakes. From here you can see the Tongue, Ill Bell, and Yoke.
Bleaberry Haws is a small hill on the moorland under Coniston Old Man. Hosting many Bronze Age monuments, the hill is best known for its little stone circle. Getting there requires a hike, and a vast bog stands between the path and the hill. Good boots go a long way.
While this is certainly a circle, created using stone, it is not a stone circle by any classical definition. Excavations have shown that Bleaberry Haws Stone Circle is the remains of a small Bronze Age hut. The likes of which are common across the nearby moorlands.
The White Moss circles can be found on Burnmoor, a moorland tract beneath Scafell Pike. The moor contains over 400 prehistoric features. An archaeological paradise.
They are small circles surrounding inner funerary cairns. This is a style of monument known as ‘burial circle’. These enclosures, which date from the Early Bronze Age (2500 - 1500 BC), could have served as burial markers. The presence of cremations in similar circles suggests a link to funerals.
Found along the coast, from Millom to Bootle, the ‘Millom Lines’ are the remains of several Early Neolithic earthworks. They are visible as ‘cropmarks’: lines seared into crop fields during hot weather. This reveals where trenches were dug into the bedrock.
The clearest examples are found next to the Giants Grave, west of Kirksanton. Here we see a circular trench, with inner pits, which may once have contained stones. Had they survived into the modern era, they may have been among the most impressive prehistoric monuments in Britain.
Kinniside Stone Circle is situated on the moorland under Blakely Raise Fell. What we see today (a small ring of stones) is the result a modern restoration.
The original circle, removed to make way for the plough, was likely similar in form. However, the stones used in the restoration are not believed to be original.
By Adam Morgan Ibbotson