Castlerigg Stone Circle - returned
So this is the view you first see when you step through the gate to view Castlerigg Stone Circle. It's absolutely in a majestic position in the entire landscape. Smack dab center on a hilltop encircled by the Fells all around. It's spectacular and this last trip we finally had good weather and dramatic clouds on our visit.
It was a very cold and windy Monday morning and there were only one or two other visitors who came and left while we spent our time taking it all in.
It's an awesome place and it gets your creative motors spinning like crazy when you're up there, it's really fantastic. I think the fact that it's never really been excavated only adds to the allure and mystery. This is an old stone circle, one of the oldest in Britain - far older than Stonehenge by over 500 years. All the ones in the area (of Cumbria) are.
I love that we have absolutely no idea at all what the neolithic stone circles were used for. We just don't - and I'm completely fine with that. I don't need some guy making stuff up to feel better about it. Everyone loves to postulate that they were "areas of ritual significance" but to be perfectly honest I'd love it if they were just where people had markets. (They aren't -- there would be more evidence of that with 'stuff' found in and around the sites. There is hardly anything ever found at Neolithic stone circles at all -- hence why we have no freakin idea at all what they were used for.) For what it's worth the words "ritual significance" in archaeological parlance basically translates to "we really don't know, so we say this to sound like we have something to tell." ;)
A little neat bit of info about this particular stone circle is that this specific one was the inspiration for Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series "Craigh Na Dun" - an invented stone circle up in Scotland that transported the protagonist back to the 18th century. It's a great series of books if you haven't checked them out!
I've dug around a bit and the only real bit of folklore associated with the stones is the typical one for stone circles. It is said that the stones cannot be counted. This is of course ridiculous :p I'm not quite sure why that seems to stick to stone circles but it's pretty common. Perhaps that bit of lore reaches so deeply back into time we didn't have numbers higher than 20 and so... those people's just gave up trying to count them all? Who knows :)
Some folklore is associated with the mountains that surround Castlerigg. Blencathra, the big ancient caldera in the background of the photo above, and Helvellyn, which is directly opposite across the valley, both have sightings of ghost armies crossing them at Midsummer.
It's an interesting and rare bit of lore that's mostly heard of in Scotland. Cumbria is pretty northern though so it makes sense some of the popular lore could crawl down this way into England a little.
The story goes that multiple people in the 16th and 17th centuries recorded seeing large ghostly armies march across the mountains. You can read more about it here.
Whatever the reasons for the great neolithic stone circles of the British Isles, they are what drew me to the UK in the first place and what keep me going back over and over again. I will never tire of them and how they light a fire in my imagination and also at the same time place me firmly back in our own human history beyond all reckoning better than any book has ever done. It's the oldest concrete evidence of our hands forming the world around us into something that made sense. It is a powerful thing. That is the magic here. It absolutely exists. All you need to do is reach out and touch it.