So much has been said and written about Stonehenge that it’s hard to think of anything that hasn’t already been explored.
Built on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge was built in stages between 3000 and 1500 BCE – spanning the Neolithic period until the Bronze Age.
The massive scale suggests that it was of vital importance to the ancients who built it.
Yet despite archaeologists who have wondered about it for decades, we still don’t know for sure what the great stone circle was really used for.
READ MORE: The beautiful Lake District beaches which are some of the best in the UK
Over the years, ideas have ranged from the weird to the wonderful and downright silly.
Was it a giant sheepfold? A place where people were ritually slaughtered? Or, a spaceship waiting to take off?
Well, probably none of those. It was, however, almost certainly an incredible primitive form of a calendar where ancient people could gauge what time of year it was from the position of the sun in the stone circle.
At key times, like the harvests and summer and winter solstices, there may have been festivals – celebrating the change of seasons.
Thousands of human bones and cremated graves in the area also suggest it was part of a huge burial complex – like a giant ancient cemetery.
But it’s easy to think of Stonehenge as the only – or perhaps the best – stone circle that ancient peoples have left us with.
In fact, there are a lot of top to bottom in the UK. All of them are a magnet for historians, archaeologists and new-age hippies.
But there is one in particular that is in such a magnificent setting that it surpasses the beauty of Stonehenge, and is a much better place to sit and contemplate the spirituality or the meaning of life – or just s’ stop to take photos while you are on vacation.
This particular example is romantically called Castlerigg – a 38 stone circle – and is located high above the beautiful town of Keswick in the Lake District.
Keswick itself is an absolute beauty of a place, especially if you are looking for a family base to start exploring the Lake District.
Unlike most lakes it is relatively easy to get to, as it can be reached by exiting the M6 at Penrith and taking the A66 Keswick bypass.
The crowning glory of the city is Lake Derwent – a sheltered lake which is a quiet and ideal place to try your hand at canoeing, sailing or rowing.
And, there are wonderful, easy walks to relatively hidden coves and beaches that won’t tire kids too much.
If you venture out onto the water, there is a series of islands where you can get off your boat, climb a pebble beach, and play pirates.
Around the lake there are beautiful landscapes and lots of small hills (Latrigg) and bigger mountains (Skiddaw) to climb if you are feeling energetic.
The town itself has a beautiful market square, lots of tourist shops and stores, and plenty of places to eat great food.
There is a lovely Victorian style garden by the lake and a grassy shore overlooking its shores which is simply a beautiful spot for a picnic.
There are some nice attractions too – with the Derwent Pencil Museum and the Theater by the Lake, which hosts a range of plays and concerts.
All in all a lovely and stylish place.
But if you take a nice 30 minute walk east of town to the Castelrigg Stone Circle, you will be rewarded for the effort.
Set on a plateau above Keswick and surrounded by rolling hills and distant mountain views, the setting is absolutely stunning.
People are so mesmerized by the views that they literally sit on the stone or in the stone circle meditating or just breathing.
The stones are believed to have been installed here around 3000 BCE – it’s incredible 5000 years ago.
Although there are over 300 stone circles in Britain, the vast majority of them are Bronze Age burial monuments (dating from around 2000-800 BCE).
They usually contain cremation graves in central graves.
But Castelrigg and other older Neolithic stone circles do not have such burials.
These Neolithic circles were often larger than later examples – Castlerigg originally contained 42 stones. – now 38.
Like in Stonehenge. One can only guess the purpose of these monuments, but what better place than a giant astronomical clock, or a temple to the gods?
Neolithic stone circles usually have an entrance and at least one peripheral stone.
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The entrance to Castlerigg on the north side of the circle is flanked by two massive standing stones, and the outlier stone is currently southwest of the stone circle.
This stone has been moved from its original position. It has been suggested that such peripheral stones have astronomical significance – alignments with planets or stars.
One of Castlerigg’s most unusual features is a rectangle of standing stones within the circle itself; there is only one other comparable example, at the Cockpit, an open stone circle at Askham Fell, near Ullswater.
Castlerigg has not been thoroughly excavated, so it’s unclear exactly what might be kept below the surface.
Three Neolithic stone axes from the nearby town of Great Langdale were recovered from the site in the 19th century, and similar finds have been made in other Neolithic stone circles.
Sites such as Castlerigg were undoubtedly important meeting places for dispersed Neolithic communities, but for us they are a great place to contemplate life for a few hours before setting off to climb another falls – or just head to the cafe with a camera full of memories.
You can read a lot more about Keswick and the Lake District in general on the right here